Perhaps no other group in rap's history defined the early '90s golden-era-style of hip-hop better than A Tribe Called Quest. The group put out two of the most influential rap records of all time, Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders, both of which contain singles that get spun on dance floors to this day. At the helm of the group was (and still is) Q-Tip, a Queens, New York, native with a poetic, nasally delivery who has helped shift rap's linguistics for the past 20 years. With crisp, philosophical lyrics and didactic rhymes, Tip epitomized the "conscious MC" tag long before Mos Def, Common, and Talib Kweli made the phrase popular years later. He's always compelled listeners to think, to move, and to act.
During a recent interview, Tip (born Jonathan Davis) made it clear that he's not interested in veering from that path as an artist — ever. At 38, he just released a new album, The Renaissance, his first solo record in nine years. It's a shockingly well-put-together disc that could give Lil Wayne serious competition for Hip-Hop Album of the Year at the Grammys. But when asked if he believes he had a lot to prove with the new album, Q-Tip answers: "Not really, 'cause hip-hop is not a sport; it's an art. At this point, I don't have to prove that I have juice left in the tank. I just have to listen to my voices and keep creating. Not to compare myself to Matisse or Miles Davis, but when you're an athlete, you have a certain chip on your shoulder to prove that you still have that juice left. As an artist, you just keep making art — like a Stanley Kubrick — up until you die. That's how I see it."
Tip is still relatively young, and certain songs off the new album, like "Getting Up," "Life Is Better," and "Move," show that he's still peaking as an MC. When you listen to how good many of the songs are, you can't help but wonder why he's spent so much time in between releases. "Label issues, man. I was on Arista for awhile, and then [Arista head] LA Reid, he didn't think the album was commercial enough. Then I was working with Dreamworks and was about to put an album out with them and the label folded. So it's been stuff like that keeping new songs from coming out." Throughout all of those issues, Q-Tip remains focused, saying his commitment to true artistry hasn't wavered.
"I'm looking forward to getting back out there and touring," he says. " I'll do this till I die, bro."