Q-Tip: “It’s Cool To Be Yourself”
“You on point Tip?
“All the time Phife.”
That chorus from the hip-hop classic, “Check The Rhyme” by A Tribe Called Quest continues to be a cornerstone of hip-hop.
One of the group’s founding MC’s, Q-Tip, also known as Kamaal The Abstract, The Abstract, and by his Islamic name, Kamaal Fareed, is often name-checked by lyricists like Kanye West, Mos Def and Kendrick Lamar. Tip, along with them are applauded for their willingness to step beyond the regular, cliche’ rap lyrics. And honestly, it could be argued that without Tip (echoing what Kanye said in an interview) there would be no College Dropout (Kanye West), no Black On Both Sides (Mos Def), no Illmatic (Nas).
“It’s quite flattering and I appreciate it because I look at them like they’re giants,” says Tip modestly of the praise heaped upon him by hip-hop heavyweights like West, Pharrell and Common. “When they speak my name, it puts me up there and makes me feel good.”
“It’s been pretty much a cool existence to be in Tribe. I think one of the staying factors of Tribe is because, along with De La Soul, we were like, ‘It’s cool to be you,'” shares Q-Tip today of rap’s long-lasting love affair with A Tribe Called Quest.
“In the African American community specifically, coming up in the time that we did, you had to be hard,” remembers the 38-year-old of a childhood spent in Harlem, and then Queens, New York. “I grew up on the rough side of the tracks. If you looked like you were soft, you would be fodder for the wolves. I came up in my neighbourhood like, ‘I’m just gonna be me,’ and all the thugs just said, ‘It’s OK, he’s special.’ They knew I had the talent with the rhymes, so they kept me around. I was always encouraged, and my family encouraged me too, just to be myself.”
Back in March 2016, the group and the hip-hop world as a whole, took a blow when fellow ATCQ founder, Phife Dawg, died due to complications from diabetes.
“Phife actually introduced me to rap. I’ve known Phife since I was four years old. He’s the one who put it in me to rhyme, because he was always rhyming,” confessed Tip.
“I really believe he did the traveling back and forth, not for this record, but to make sure that me and him, Malik and Jon, were OK,” Q-Tip said. “Not Ali. Not Jarobi. He came to my house to make sure that he and I were OK.”
Q-Tip also recalled his last conversation with Phife. It was a phone call in which Phife expressed his excitement at a potential track.
“Yo, make sure you send me that beat. I’ve got to put some verses to it. That beat is fire!” Q-Tip recalled Phife saying, mere hours before his death. The Five Foot Assassin passed away from complications due to diabetes in March.
“It’s so hard for me to sit in there and hear his voice,” he added. “Sometimes I just have to like take a break and walk away. It gets heavy. It doesn’t necessarily get sad, it just gets heavy. I literally feel the energy from him when I hear his voice.