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‘You’re Playing for the World’: Q-Tip Talks About His Beats 1 Radio Show ‘Abstract Thought,’ Working With Sonos

Anyone disappointed by the first day of broadcasting from Beats 1, the radio station centerpiece of Apple's newly launched Music platform, should look forward to this Friday (July 3). That's when…

Anyone disappointed by the first day of broadcasting from Beats 1, the radio station centerpiece of Apple’s newly launched Music platform, should look forward to this Friday (July 3). That’s when Q-Tip, hip-hop legend and accomplished DJ and producer, will debut his own radio show, “Abstract Radio,” at 10pm ET.

To hear him tell it, the show will have at least as much rock as it will hip-hop, and serve double-duty as a lesson in the history of music. Let’s hear him tell it, though.


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So we’re here to talk about your Apple Radio show. Have you been going into the New York studio pretty regularly?

No, I’ve been working it from my studio, technology is such that it feels like we’re all in the same room you know what I mean.

When did you start being involved with Beats 1?

It was pretty sudden, it just kind of happened. Rolled out the ideas, that’s all there is, we just made it happen.

How long ago was that?

Maybe a couple months ago.

OK, so not that long. What’s the preparation been like, the preparation for your show?

I’m a DJ as well, you know what I mean. I try to treat it like a DJ thing, it’s worldwide so it’s playing in 100 countries, so you have to be conscious of your audience. You’re not just playing in a club anymore. You’re not just playing for one local radio station, you’re playing for the world basically. Rather than just follow any sort of current, what’s popular, you want to try to figure out how to bridge many gaps and bring it all into one singular voice of good music. That’s been my philosophy and ethos.

It sounds like its more than just hip-hop, you’re really going everywhere?

Yeah it’s not. It’s dope music from all over. I’ll play anything as long as it feels right and it fits into the story and it fits into the energy you know what I mean?

How long do those two hours take you to put together?

It varies you know? If you get a flow going it could take the 2 hours to do the set. Sometimes it takes two weeks. There’s really no rhyme or reason to it.

The first one though I imagine you put in some time?

Not really. I’m just a different cat bro, you know what I mean. I’m not trying to take any stance of importance or anything. I tried to operate from a place of feeling music. I’m a feeling person, I’m a colors person. Even though I have the capacity to go numbers and to go to literal and to go equations, when I deal with music and I deal with that side of my instinct, I just don’t even question that. I’m just really excited about everything that Apple has to bring together. I don’t like to sugarcoat things, I like to shoot straight. I think that with Beats 1, the opportunity here is that we’ll be able to, you know, hopefully affect the lexicon of music and contextualize music a little bit deeper.

We can wrap all of our legacy artists and all of the music from yesterday into today to start to draw lineage from a Yardbirds to The Who to The Stooges to The Clash, you know what I mean. It may sound esoteric and deep, but its really important, especially given these times, to really understand context and to truly appreciate history. Not just look at history in a way of like, “OK i know about it, dadadada…” Really dive into it and understand it. Understand how history is alive today, you know what I mean? So really destroying all of those lines is going to be really exciting, and to be able to bring about new artists who you normally don’t hear into a setting where people can really appreciate it, and then also re-introducing the album to listeners. To hear music in context. That’s the main thing for me, and that’s my take away from it, and that’s my personal goal as one of the personalities on it.

That’s a really good point, that’s something that I’ve thought about a lot, as far as the Internet specifically. You read a news story or you got to a streaming service and its presented without context. It’s there and its immediate and as soon as you’re done with it it’s just as immediately gone. When I heard about Beats 1 that was the thing that I thought was the coolest thing Apple was doing. They described it as “wanting people to miss stuff.” Having someone like you, Dr Dre, Zane Lowe, walking people through these histories is going to be really valuable, and something that I don’t think a lot of kids have.

Yeah, I think so too. Hopefully it can get people looking at music from a different way. Without getting too wordy about it, music is still the prevailing energy throughout the world. The record companies and the people who are in the business are still scratching their heads at how they can monetize it and how they can do that. One thing’s for sure is that the appetite for music has never been bigger than it is today. It’s everywhere. It’s in advertising, it’s in movies, it’s in entertainment, it’s just everywhere. It’s on our phones! Apple being in that field has certainly recognized that in a big way. I think that we’re pregnant with possibilities here. It’s a great thing. I’m excited to be a part of it.

What’s your show called and when does it air?

It’s called Abstract Radio. It airs this Friday, 10pm ET.

You’re also working with Sonos?

Yes, I’m on the board for Sonos, along with Hans Zimmer and Rick Rubin. I’m excited about this relationship because I feel that music can really change energy and it can really affect your biochemical disposition in a way, you know? What you select. I think it being in your house should stay one of the everyday nuances that really means a lot. Some people have 600 square feet or have a sprawling mansion, but when you get up and start your day and you have music in your home, or when you come home from work or when you’re studying and you have music on, if you have family or loved ones over or if you’re just by yourself being contemplative, for it to fill your house. For many years we were in a headphone kind of phase. I believe because of the explosion of EDM, dance music, festival music, kids have really seen the effect of experiencing music in a community, music in an open space. I think the next best thing to open space is your home.

What you said about EDM and kids getting together in open space reminds me of this story that one of our writers wrote about the connection between dub sound-systems in Kingston 40 years ago, and the through line of that build. I just thought that was an interesting parallel. Anyways; what’s your role at Sonos?

It’s kind of all over. I offer my opinion on the products, on the actual sound. I offer my opinion, my insight, on the integration. How it could work with the average listener. I have ideas about how to get that message out. I offer my opinion on marketing. It’s kind of all over the board.