“It’s about the fuckin unit, b!”
Most people who watched the (in)famous Tribe Called Quest documentary directed by Michael Rappaport remembers Q-Tip adamantly saying this in one of his amped discussions during the course of the film. This is the same film where Q-Tip was at times portrayed as the villain who was responsible for the group’s demise, and if he wasn’t that, he was a self-fullfilling ego-maniac.
As a life long Tribe fan, I beg to differ.
When I say Tribe fan, that is an understatement. Tribe disciple would be a bit more accurate. Over their songs and albums have been deconstructed and dissected, and put back together again. Each line holds significance, each album has it’s place in time. The samples (*ahem* Roy Ayers) opened up doors which led to entire worlds, from jazz, to funk, to soul, to any other genre. The song titles, the skits, the features… I can go on and on, but let’s not. Let’s talk about these features, and how I thought of them from a listener’s perspective. It is the features that really told me that Q-Tip really about the music, and creating unification through Hip Hop.
It began with listening to Nas’ famed notable classic album, Illmatic. Upon learning about Q-Tip being one of the heavyweights to have produced on that album, it wasn’t until then I had realized that he was the voice featured the song One Love which also happens to be the song the produced. I know, it’s barely something you would call a feature, but any glory hogging producer/rapper/artist would have wanted their name embedded indelibly into the song. Q-Tip’s name wasn’t. Again, this was a tiny example, but it was a trend that was well in the making.
Nas – One Love
I recall my first time listening to Mobb Deep’s “debut” album entitled The Infamous. A classic album in it’s own right, this The Infamous is considered by many to be Hip Hop royalty. After being subjected to murder filled raps about organized, and not-so-organized crimes, crazy beats, and thug poetry, it was towards the end of the album when I was listening to a song entitled Drink Away The Pain. From out the wood work comes that familiar nasaly voice that we all know and love, as he was a surprise guest during a hype show. It was Q-Tip, once again, shining over a beat in which he birthed, this time in the form of a verse. Again, there was no “…featuring Q-Tip” in the liner notes. You just knew it was him.
Mobb Deep – Drink Away The Pain (Situations)
Jimi Hendrix – Mojo Man
Same thing with Organized Konfusion’s track Let’s Organize, featured on their second album Stress: The Extinction Agenda
Organized Konfusion – Let’s Organize
Same thing with Black Sheep’s track La Menage, from their debut album A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing
Black Sheep – La Menage
This trend wasn’t only with close-knit affiliates. It even stretched over to the West Coast.
Check out the Alkaholik’s track All The Way Live, from the album Coast 2 Coast
The Alkholiks – All The Way Live
…and his seldom recognized feature with Del, Pep Love, and Jay Biz from the Bay Area’s very own Hieroglyphics Crew. Also noting that Hieroglyphics very rarely used outside collaborations and productions during the early to mid-90’s, if ever.
Del – Undisputed Champs
…the Craig Mack remix for his second single Get Down
Craig Mack – Get Down (Q-Tip Remix)
…and with The Roots song Ital (The Universe Side) from Illadelph Halflife
The Roots – Ital (The Universal Side)
Even on one of his most famous verses, Get it Together, featured on the Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication.
The Beastie Boys – Get It Together
Each one of these examples had one thing in common. None of the physical liner notes that came with the albums said …featuring Q-Tip. How do I know? Because as a young student of Hip Hop, I would read liner notes religiously. Every time I would hear these albums for the first time, I remember the pleasantly excited I was when I unexpectedly heard the voice of Q-Tip.
I am not sure why this was a constant theme, and I don’t know if it was done by design. No one would accuse Q-Tip of being egocentric or self-absorbed had asked to be credited on any number of these albums or songs. After all, that would have been in his best personal interests. But this was different. These seemingly calculated omissions were a testament to Q-Tip’s indifference on personal fame and accolades. This shows the importance of the music itself. Collaboration. Self Expression, Creating unity, strengthening bonds, cultivating relationships, all for the greater good of Hip Hop. Q-Tip was not credited on these songs, as well as many others, but he was most definitely heard, absorbed, and understood. And he wouldn’t have wanted.
(Here are the above listed songs in a single playlist, for your listening pleasure.)
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Written by: @Haylow