When it comes to hip hop artists who both rap and produce, Q-Tip has to be near the top of the pile. He frequently crops up in conversations about the greatest of all time in both fields, and when it comes to beatmakers on the microphone, Tip is certainly up there with Kanye West, Dr. Dre and Large Professor. He made his name with legendary New York group A Tribe Called Quest before forging a fine solo career and taking on production for Nas, Run DMC, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, among others. He remains a creative firebrand, having recently overseen Tribe’s stunning comeback album in 2016.
A Tribe Called Quest
Q-Tip may be indelibly associated with Queens, New York, but he was born in Harlem on April 10, 1970. Originally Jonathan Davis, he later converted to Islam and now goes by the name Kamaal Ibn John Fareed. His family moved to Queens when Fareed was still young, living near the Linden Boulevard he has referenced on many classic records.
He attended Murry Bergtraum High School in Lower Manhattan and, as an early fan of hip hop, adopted the name MC Love Child. This he switched to Q-Tip, a name given to him by schoolmate and future Jungle Brother, Afrika Baby Bam. Also at school with Fareed was Ali Shaheed Muhammad and together with friends Phife Dawg and Jarobi White, they formed A Tribe Called Quest in the mid 1980s. They didn’t sign their first deal with Jive Records until 1989, but by then Fareed had already impressed listeners with a couple of cameos on the classic Jungle Brothers debut Straight Out the Jungle in 1988.
Musical Collaborations & Discography
Tribe’s debut album, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, was released to instant acclaim in 1990. It was very much in the vein of thoughtful, playful albums from Jungle Brothers and De La Soul, with whom they would collaborate frequently as part of a wider loose-knit collective The Native Tongues, which also encompassed Black Sheep, Queen Latifah, Chi-Ali and Monie Love. The leading rap magazine of the time, The Source, made it the first album in their history to receive the full "5 Mics" rating, hailing it as “a completely original musical and spiritual approach to hip hop.”
A Tribe Called Quest would go on to cement their reputation as one of the all-time great rap groups with follow-ups The Low End Theory (1991), Midnight Marauders (1993) and Beats, Rhymes and Life (1996) before splitting up, following the release of the 1998 album The Love Movement.
By then Fareed had made a name for himself as a producer for hire, and contributed the memorable "One Love" to Nas’ instant-classic debut Illmatic. He also worked closely with Muhammad and the late Jay Dee (aka J Dilla) as production trio The Ummah, delivering tracks for Busta Rhymes and both Michael and Janet Jackson.
Going Solo: 'Amplified' to 'The Renaissance' Albums
Fareed’s solo career, stretching from those early Jungle Brothers verses, had gained international prominence with some lyrics he contributed to Deee-Lite’s international smash "Groove Is in the Heart" in 1990, and he would also go on to rhyme with the Beastie Boys, the Chemical Brothers and REM. His solo debut album, 1999’s Amplified, was released on Arista and took his career in a different direction. The clipped beats and libidinous rhymes hinted at a more relaxed artist, and NME duly praised it as “a quite brilliant hybrid of the organic and the modernist.”
Unfortunately, the follow-up, Kamaal/ The Abstract, was shelved by the label, who weren’t in sync with its philosophical, experimental vibe. Due for release in 2002 it wouldn’t see the light of day until 2009. By then, however, The Renaissance had been released (Universal Motown Records, 2008), which spawned three singles and a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album. Pitchfork singled out the “welcome return of that familiar elastic, swing-cadence, voice-dropping jewels on the mic.”
'We Got It from Here… Thank-You 4 Your Service'
That Fareed was able to fashion such fascinating music after losing his entire 20,000-strong record collection in a February 1998 fire at his home recording studio was laudable. Many unreleased songs were lost, in addition to the vinyl source of all his samples. His perseverance was also rewarded when he fought to reunite A Tribe Called Quest for one last album. While much of 2016’s We Got It from Here… Thank-You 4 Your Service was recorded before Phife Dawg’s death in March 2016, it was completed and released in November 2016. Produced by Q-Tip, it was received rapturously and topped the Billboard 200.
Despite rumored high-profile flings with Janet Jackson and Nicole Kidman, Fareed has largely kept his personal life intensely private. Some sources claim he has been married to the actress Michele Daves since 1990, the couple having two children together. He continues to record, tour and perform, and was appointed in March 2016 as the Kennedy Center’s artistic director for hip hop culture. In demand as a live DJ, he also hosts the Abstract Radio show on Apple Music’s Beats 1 station, showcasing the esoteric, open-minded taste for music that his impressive career has been built on.
(Profile photo of Q-Tip by Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
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