As Hip-Hop grows older, it is interesting to see which artists are able to maintain musical longevity. In this age, many acts fight so hard to retain their musical integrity and originality that they sometimes suffer from self-indulgence. These artists get so wrapped up in themselves that they ultimately lose their listeners. The ongoing musical struggle is to maintain the balance between unique artistry and universal fatness.
A Tribe Called Quest represents a group of young musicians who know how to give the people what they want. Tribe has always been at the forefront of the musical progression in Hip-Hop with their unique use of jazz samples and live instrumentation. We all must remember that Tip and Ali were two of the key producers responsible for that whole "rim shot, high hat, kick drum" flavor (Tom Scott) that every producer in Hip-Hop has imitated to the point of making it redundant.
Tribe's consistency has to do with their ability to find the perfect verbal cadence in their lyrical delivery and freely mix that up with their sophisticated musical arrangements. As a result, their range and scope has proven to be very broad, with the group producing everyone from Run-DMC to Nas to Tiger to Tony Toni Tone. Tribe also exemplify the essence of being contemporary electronic musicians by transferring the same determination and work ethic that gave them the skills to use SP1200 sampling machines to teaching themselves how to play the bass guitar, keyboards and the trap drum set.
Tribe's seriousness and focus is very refreshing, and these qualities easily explain their growth and success. It's clear to me why A Tribe Called Quest stays on top of their game and continue to be at the head of their class.
[RapPages:] Tell me how you like to work.
[Q-TIP:] We like to develop the beats at home and then lay the tracks in the studio.
[RP:] What type of setup do you have at the crib
[Q-TIP:] SP1200, Mackie four-track, two 1200 Technics turntables, GLI mixer, a Yamaha speaker that's about 80 watts with an eight-inch woofer built in the amp. It's just a little small setup for my room in my crib. I also have an Akai four-track and I like it because of the EQs set. They have the indentures in it and it's easy to maneuver. I have an Atari 1040 Computer, and Ali likes working with the Mac. The Mac is compatible and I work with both. The language on the Atari is a little easier.
[RP:] So when you go to the studio, do you bring your own equipment or do you rent?
[Q-TIP:] Sometimes we rent and sometimes we bring our own shit. It depends on if you have the proper casing so the equipment won't get messed up. I'd rather bring it, cause you save money.
[ALI SHAHEED:] I have an Ensonic keyboard, Korg keyboard, a couple of Korg modules [03, 05]. 950 sampler, a regular Mackie 2CI, a laptop computer for the road, a Mackie mixer, a Roland mixer, a Yamaha monitor.
[RP:] What's your equipment setup like, Phife?
[PHIFE:] A pen and a pad.
[ALI SHAHEED:] Oh, yeah, my bass.
[RP:] How long have you been playing?
[ALI SHAHEED:] About eight months.
[Q-TIP:] He's pretty good on the keyboards too.
[RP:] Are you self-taught musicians?
[ALI SHAHEED:] Everything we are doing is self-taught. We learn by sitting in the studio just playing, going back 'n' forth. We play drums too.
[Q-TIP:] Doing music is the best part to me out of all this shit.
[RP:] One of the things I've always thought about is if y'all played instruments. Were y'all ever in a band in school?
[ALI SHAHEED:] I was in a band and I played clarinet and saxophone. I played for four years. I couldn't afford a sax, so when school was over I had to turn in my clarinet and sax. That's what really stopped me. I played up until junior high.
[RP:] When did you start producing?
[Q-TIP:] When we were 15. Back then we had a Tascam four-track, a Truband sampler--yo, we used to freak that shit. We got a lot of sampling time out of that. Two Technics and a mixer.
[ALI SHAHEED:] Eventually, we started to get more and more stuff.
[Q-TIP:] Eventually, I want my own studio. My dream board is the Sony GML. Ali likes the SSLs, but I can't mess with them. SSLs are cool because they are process. I like mixing on them, but I'd rather cut on a Neve board. On a Neve, you have more bottom out. It's a warmer sound and it's chunky. Then with an SSL, you can come clean everything up. So I like to mess it up first, then clean it up with the SSL.
[RP:] When you mix, do you use analog or digital?
[ALI SHAHEED:] When we are mixing we use analog and digital just to have both. At the end of the process, whichever sounds better, that's what we use. We don't record in digital, we record everything in analog.
[RP:] When I interviewed Large Professor, he told me about your crew--Premier, Diamond, Pete Rock, Showbiz--and how you all go shopping for beats.
[Q-TIP:] We are on a never-ending quest for records. Not just to make beats, but just to know about music. I learn from listening to other people's music.
[RP:] I heard that a lot people was at that record show at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. What was that all about?
[Q-TIP:] Everybody right now is on this whole beat stupor. I've been getting beats since high school. Me, my man JuJu from the Beatnuts. Afrika [Jungle Brothers]. It's nice that everyone is getting involved, because it's enough for everyone. But now niggas is buying records for the beat and just that loop. Again, I like to listen to the records as well. Niggas be on some secret squirrel shit: "Oh, I can't tell you what record it is." It's all here for the taking. It's still fun for me, because it's my job and hobby.
[RP:] Have y'all started a production company yet?
[Q-TIP:] Yes, we have a production deal with EastWest records called Museum Music. We have one artist, Vinia Moheta.