Talk of Q-Tip‘s Last Zulu, his first record since 2008’s The Renaissance, began back in 2012. Since, he’s appeared on Busta Rhymes’ “Thank You” (remixed on Q-Tip and Busta Rhymes’ excellent backwards-and-forwards-looking mixtape The Abstract and the Dragon) made two contributions to the soundtracks of major films (The Great Gatsby on Fergie’s “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got)” and Stromae’s “Meltdown” from Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 1, alongside Lorde, Haim and Pusha T), and guested on the forthcoming Chemical Brothers album Born In The Echoes.
More recently, he’s joined the board of speaker company Sonos and is announcing his own radio show on Apple’s just-launched Beats 1 station (more about that here).
The legend has been relatively quiet this year — which we’ve corrected. Here, he talks about working with Beck, seeking out Fiona Apple, recusing himself from Twitter and the painful situation that unfolded in Charleston, S.C.
So, your new record. This is still Last Zulu?
So this has been delayed for a little while…
Yeah man, I’m putting the finishing touches on it now. I’m really excited about it. Marsha Ambrosius and I have been writing, we have Beck, and talking to Fiona Apple, and some other singers — they’re all going to be singing the choruses. You know how on the old records back in the day, if you’re listening to “Young Americans,” you know Bowie had Luther Vandross and he had Nona Hendryx singing background on a couple records. They won’t be featured, but you’ll be able to listen to the songs and pick out their tones, which is important for me. I’m also doing the album in different languages. I’m doing it in Spanish and French and Portuguese.
Wait, as in full versions in different languages?
I’m going to be doing the choruses and certain parts of the raps in different languages, so that when it’s released you’ll have a Spanish version and a French version and a Portuguese version.
2012 was when it was supposed to come out?
I believe I announced it for 2013, but you know, working. I’m trying to keep up with my counterparts Sade and D’Angelo and take 8 years, 9 years between records. I’m very aware of that. I’m just trying to uphold our pact that we have. [Laughs]
So you’ve been recording that all over the place or has it been just in your studio?
Nah just in my studio.
And what about production?
I’m doing it.
Multi-lingual, single-produced — you’ve been busy. Are you still signed to G.O.O.D. Music?
Yeah, G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam.
When’s it going to come out? Or… when are you hoping it’s going to come out?
I’m hoping it’ll be coming out by the end of this year.
And how are you doing without Twitter? [Q-Tip went quiet on the platform after giving Iggy Azalea an impromptu history lesson last December.]
Ah man, I’m doing great without Twitter. I think everybody should try that. It’s fun to not be embroiled in that stuff. It can consume you. There’s a lot of good things to it — I’m not trying to Twitter bash here. I think it’s wonderful, it’s connected a lot of people but then, you know, there’s a certain diabolical power in being viral. You sometimes, if you’re not careful, it doesn’t make a difference who you are, you can be an artist on Twitter or you can just be an account on Twitter. People tend to work out their identities on there vis a vis their handles, their commentaries, multiple images. This is just my opinion — I think that it can rear on the psyche of a person if you’re not careful. I would be curious to see what university is doing a two-year study on a Twitter lab rat, and the types of relationships that they have personally, business-wise, and how they have grown or diminished in two years. I think it would be interesting to see. Also, if you’re not careful it could present a certain kind of mania into your personality.
It’s still there, I may still put something up here or there maybe, but I’m definitely more interested in real live than viral life, although I think it is important in terms of disseminating information and news. Also raising awareness of certain things. There’s a lot of positive attributes to it. I just think that there’s a balance that needs to be had.
Have you been working with Kanye at all? I heard he scrapped Swish.
Yeah, Rick and I were gonna do the record, and Kanye went through different phases musically, so we’ve yet to reconnect on his project. We’ve met a few times and he’s kept me up to speed here and there on what’s happening. He’s done the same with my record. We’ve been talking about some ideas for my record as well. We’re still in step. It’s not like [Kanye] scrapped any of it, that’s a rumor.
I’m excited [about Last Zulu]. The sound is, it’s hard to describe, but I’m just excited about music. I feel like I haven’t even peaked. I’m just hoping that I can have people join me on my little insights, know what I mean? I’m just appreciative of all those who have up to this point. I’m early in my appreciation for those who are joining for the first time. I’m just excited, I’m excited that you know, the people at your institution at Billboard have supported me, and supported all the things that I’m doing. I think it’s an exciting time.
I think that we’re in a crossroads in many ways, not only as a nation but in the world. With all the funky things that are happening, I think that the last frontier to me is music, I’m just blessed that I’ve been able to contribute that way. Hopefully it will continue. Hopefully I’ll continue to do so in the same impactful way.
That brings up a painful question — the awfulness in Charleston. The day after, I noticed a lot of the conversation moving towards the removal of the confederate flag, that’s something that people zeroed in on, and I couldn’t tell if it’s a positive step or a distraction from the root cause of that situation.
It’s a deep question bro, so I’m going to have to unfortunately give you a deep answer. I think that for a lot of us here in this country, we are tangible people. Because we birth the most innovators and the most inventors and because we are pretty futuristic in our philosophy of being a melting pot for anybody coming here, the land of opportunity. When those things were drafted over four hundred years ago they were pretty ahead of their time in doing that, you know. I think that being here, and trying to get that dream, and trying to ascertain these things, and becoming more and more capitalized, just by that alone we’ve become more reliant on the things that we can see can touch. Secondarily, it’s what it means to us, then it becomes about the things that you don’t see like our emotions and our spirit. The actual flag being removed is a physical thing. They want the flag down from the State House, but does that truly remove those individuals who are spirited with those horrific ideas about humanity? Does it really remove that philosophy of those unfortunate few people who really believe that in Charleston? Does it really remove that spirit and sentiment once you take the flag down? I think that the flag should be removed. I think it’s a great first step, but I also think that we need to become more spiritualized and understand our place in humanity.
It’s horrible what happened. I think that the focus should be on the fact that that act happened, and also the fact that during that week a total of five black churches were torched, which is a story that we don’t really see in mainstream media. We seriously have to be introspective and start to open up these conversations, and if we open up these conversations and be transparent, we can’t get frustrated with each other. We have to understand that we’re flawed human beings. We have to understand that right is right, wrong is wrong, and opinion is opinion. We have to try to interject logic where it needs to be and we need to interject some morality where it needs to be. I just think it’s horrible. There’s just so many emotions.
I said it a long time ago on Twitter — one of the things I said when the Trayvon situation happened, I said there’s no value for black life. I think that that’s kind of equivalent to the “black lives matter.” We have to have that conversation, we as African-Americans, as black folks, we’ve given so much to this country in so many different regards, that it’s embarrassing to be viewed in the whole word as this country whose citizens are still tied to these silly notions that three-fifths of a human being. I think if you’re going to call for the takedown of this flag, I think we need to take that out of the constitution. It’s been amended, but it still exists within the constitution, where it says that blacks are three-fifths of a human being. I’m truly insulted by that, in the highest literature of the land, in 2015, that it still says that blacks are three-fifths.
That should be removed. I think that that along with the confederate flag should be removed, but that should be totally be removed. That’s in our document. That’s something that is engrained in the language of this country. It’s an embarrassment, it’s small minded, and it certainly doesn’t run in concert with all the great and many achievements that this country has had, for us to still have that sitting as a part of the constitution, although it has been amended.
I think you have a lot of people that agree with you. That’s a sad note to end on, but I couldn’t agree more.
It’s an important one. It’s more important than what I do or what you do. I don’t know if you have kids or are married, but I think the important thing is our family, raising our family, making sure that our loved ones are safe, making sure that we can coexist and intermingle, and learn from each other as a humanity. We certainly can’t honestly move in that spirit if in our doctrine we have nasty and just backwards, infantile verbiage like that, that exits in our doctrine.