On Wednesday morning (Feb. 2), the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame announced the nominees for the class of 2022, which included a bevy of musical luminaries, including Rage Against the Machine, Beck, Lionel Richie, and Dolly Parton. This year, hip-hop squeezed its way in again with a pair of selections, including Eminem and renowned ’90s rap group A Tribe Called Quest, after watching Jay-Z and LL Cool J receive their honors last year.
Tribe’s frontman and lauded producer Q-Tip spoke on the bittersweet moment and how he wished former member Phife Dawg, who passed in 2016, was here to relish the feat. “I was pleased, [but], I wish my man [Phife Dawg] was here,” he says during his chat with Billboard on Thursday afternoon.
The lyrical quartet surged onto the hip-hop landscape when they released their 1991 opus, The Low End Theory. They followed that with equally-seminal albums, including 1993’s Beats, Rhymes and Life and 1996’s Midnight Marauders. Then, in 2016, following the passing of Phife Dawg, the group released their sixth and final studio album, We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and enjoyed ubiquitous acclaim.
“I was just saying to LL Cool J the thing about Tribe is we played in front of more rock audiences than rap audiences,” recalls Tip. “Just being on tour with Smashing Pumpkins, Hole, Green Day, Beastie Boys, and our first show we opened for Big Audio Dynamite — at our time, we kinda helped bring white audiences to hip-hop. So it’s overall good. I feel like the story of music and music’s evolution can’t happen without hip-hop artists.”
Q-Tip spoke to Billboard about Tribe’s Rock Hall nomination, enjoying new school artists such as Megan Thee Stallion and Cordae, working on LL Cool J’s new album, and his thoughts on Spotify’s dilemma with Joe Rogan.
In the past hip-hop has gotten few looks for the Rock Hall of Fame. With the recent inductions of Jay-Z, LL Cool J, Pac and Biggie, what does it say about the genre finally getting its just due?
To try to summarize, I guess you could say there’s a lot of people in this country who think rock-and-roll looks a certain way. The synonymous instrument with rock is the guitar, and the face of rock and roll is the white male face. As innovation goes on, one of the ideas of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is to praise innovation.
With any innovation, you have mutations like splinters — but it starts from the root, and the root of rock and roll [was] Black faces. With the synonymous instrument of rhythm and blues and rock-and-roll, but the instrument was a blues voice, and the face of it was Black.
You can’t stop natural innovation, so white people took it and did their interpretation of it and what’s familiar to them. Through innovation, you have the roots, and you know — I feel like then it becomes a question of, “What is rock-and-roll?” [When] the first year the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was up, it was Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, James Brown, and Ray Charles who were inducted, and James Brown was primarily an R&B soul man. So was Ray Charles, but so was Chuck Berry and he was really the architect of what we formerly known as rock.
We always have to remember that with hip-hop artists getting inducted because we are, for the most part, out of that synergy of what this music was, which was daring, against the grain, informal, and innovative, and influential.
Every time I’m on Instagram now, I see LL Cool J in the studio with you, and it looks like you’re pushing him even further with the raps. Talk about working with LL and what that’s been like shaping his new project.
It’s been a blessing to get to work with your heroes. It’s everything to me. I tell him all the time, “You the archetype.” He was the first superstar solo MC. Without LL, there’s no Rakim, Eminem, Jay-Z — or there’s no Drake. He put the fire in the back and to have the pleasure to build with him is amazing. I can’t wait for everyone to hear it.
Is the posthumous Phife Dawg album still on the calendar for March?
I got a little thing on there, but I didn’t do too much, because it’s his thing. Hopefully, people will dig it. That guy is a hip-hop head to the core and he loved it. You can tell from his verses that he was funny, sharp, and it’s kind of eerie for me to hear it because I miss him. It’s great, man.
I did an interview a few days ago with an artist you gave an early co-sign to and that’s Megan Thee Stallion. Talk about her growth as an artist and what she’s been able to do as a female rapper.
I think it’s been amazing and I love the fact she got her diploma from college. When I met her and her mother, that was one of the first things we talked about. Between the Grammys and all the covers, people haven’t seen her full artistry yet. People can see she got bars, but that’s a rhyming motherf–ker right there. That was one of the things that attracted me to her, was her reverence for her craft. Just to be her age and really understand what that is, she’s got a high ceiling.
I just talked to another person this week that you love from the new generation in Cordae. What is so special about Cordae that is so reminiscent of ‘90s hip-hop?
He’s an homage to that era, which is amazing to see, and flattering having been a part of that. His pen is obviously dope but I love how he thinks conceptually. I love the time he takes with his concepts in what he wants to say and how firm he is. He’s a long-ball guy. He does projects to set up the next one. He has that kind of brain and foresight. It’s going to be exciting to be a fan and hear all the great music he has coming out and his album he just put out.
I was at Rolling Loud when Wale brought you out for “Vivrant Thing.” Talk about Wale re-making “Vivrant Thing” with “Poke It Out,” and you guys teaming up for that performance .
Great, and shout-out to Barry White. It’s just cool. You know I’m blessed. Them taking that record and flipping it, it’s humbling and I’m grateful for it. It makes me feel good about Tribe even more. Just the respect that we have and to see it still going is amazing.
I’m only bringing this up because my mom brought it up when we had a conversation the other day. She was loving the fact that you were able to kiss Janet Jackson 20 times for the making of Poetic Justice. Take me back to the days of you trying out for that movie.
That was the first film I did, and I was definitely intimidated. It wasn’t something that I necessarily thought would happen and it happened. The first time I met Janet Jackson was surrounding the movie. You know Tupac was my dude, so he was the familiar face there. It was kind of mind-blowing now that I think about it. I must’ve been 23 or 24. It was definitely something that I cherish.
I wanted to get your thoughts on the whole Joe Rogan / Spotify issue with artists beginning to pull their records from the streaming service.
I think that’s really unfortunate with Joe Rogan. Spotify is toeing the line. They’re hearing the majority of artists and he has this complaint and they’re siding with Joe Rogan. One of the alluring things I gather about him from folks is his transparency and thoughtfulness apparently, but it seems like he was devoid of the latter by just gratuitously using that word. Regardless of it being in context of a story, we’ve seen others of our white brothers and sisters in media when they’re speaking about things, they’ll always say “N-word.” They will use “N-word” instead of actually using “n—-r.” It’s such a polarizing word. He knows better than that. And Spotify should know better than that, but they’ve paid him hefty money because he’s got the No. 1 podcast. Artists should see where their allegiance lies.
But then you have a conundrum for younger artists who use Spotify to put their unsigned music up there and they’re trying to make a way for themselves because that’s the biggest boy on the block. So because of Spotify’s refusal to take Joe down, it’s putting the artists they make their bread and butter on and say they support in a very precarious situation. There’s plenty of Black artists putting it up on their format — and they’re faced with a spiritual, philosophical, and economic dilemma. Spotify should be ashamed of themselves, because they’re putting these artists in that position because of their allegiance to somebody who has illuminating talk at times — but quite honestly, that light isn’t worth the darkness he surreptitiously lays out on that format.
Spotify should be bending over backward, especially in today’s age, to make that right. They might as well be an NFL owner with their little boy’s club. They’re showing no recourse to this. What would happen, Spotify, if Jay-Z got on the phone with me, and I got on the phone with Lil Wayne, and Wayne got on the phone with Kanye [West], and Kanye got on the phone with LL [Cool J], and LL got on the phone with Nicki [Minaj], and Nicki got on the phone with Megan [Thee Stallion], and Meg got on the phone with Drake, and everyone said, “Stop playing our music?” What if Stevie Wonder called and what if Earth, Wind, and Fire called and what if Patti LaBelle called, the estate of Jimi Hendrix, the estate of Louis Armstrong, the estate of Miles Davis, the estate of Billie Holiday and everyone who’s Black froze everything on Spotify, where would Spotify really be?
We have to realize our power. Individually, we are a strength, but as a unit, we are a mic. If they want to keep playing with the third rail – see this is why I don’t like doing interviews, I got a big mouth sometimes, but it’s the truth. I love my people and after we put so much into media, and we sit back and get paid rations on a metric that they decide and now we have to be called “n—-rs” repeatedly and fed misinformation? The listener isn’t flushed with information so they can discern and make an intelligent decision all the time, [whereas] some can. Especially when you’re playing with misinformation in a pandemic, you have to be cognizant of that.