Q-Tip (from Tribe) on the state of rap


Hip-hop’s Down Beat — Printout — TIME

Artists who never jumped on the gangsta bandwagon point the finger at the boardroom. They accuse major labels of strip-mining the music, playing up its sensationalist aspects for easy sales. “In rock you have metal, alternative, emo, soft rock, pop-rock, you have all these different strains,” says Q-Tip, front man for the defunct A Tribe Called Quest. “And there are different strains of hip-hop, but record companies aren’t set up to sell these different strains. They aren’t set up to do anything more of a mature sort of hip-hop.”

Of course, gangsta rap isn’t a record-company invention. Indeed, hip-hop’s two most celebrated icons, Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., embraced the sort of lyrical content that today has opened hip-hop to criticism. And the music companies, under assault from file-sharing and other alternative distribution channels, are hardly in a position to do R&D. “When I first signed to Tommy Boy, [the A&R person] would take us to different shows and to art museums,” says Q-Tip. “There was real mentorship. Today that’s largely absent, and we see the results in the music and in the aesthetic.” That result is a stale product, defined by cable channels like BET, now owned by Viacom, which seems to consist primarily of gun worship and underdressed women.

Before I got to this point in the article (which was bemoaning sensationalist gangsta rap) I was literally thinking “what about artists like Tribe Called Quest?”


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