Veteran rapper-producer Q-Tip has signed a deal with Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music imprint, the label announced Wednesday.
Best known as the frontman of iconic rap group A Tribe Called Quest, the Grammy Award-winner is currently working on his fourth solo album, “The Last Zulu,” which will be released through West’s imprint and Def Jam Recordings, according to Universal Republic chairman and Chief Executive Barry Weiss, who handled the hip-hop group’s catalog on Jive Records during the 1990s.
Pop & Hiss will be handicapping the major Grammy categories leading up to the Jan. 31 telecast. Read our picks, and vote for your own, below.
The field at a glance: Three of the last five years, the best rap album went to Kanye West. During the eligibility period for the 2010 awards, West drifted from his hip-hop past, offering up a collection of moody pop with "808s and Heartbreak," and thus opening up the rap album field.
But West isn't the only superstar absent from this category. Due to a one-month advance in the eligibility period from Sept. 31 to Aug. 31, Jay-Z's "The Blueprint 3" missed the window to be considered for the 2010 awards, having been released on Sept. 8. The omission of the 2010 Coachella headliner will be felt, as the album has sold more than 1.5 million copies in just four months, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
What's left, however, is a rather broad snapshot of hip-hop over 2009. Flo Rida maintained his dominance as a singles artist, as his "Right Round" featuring Ke$ha sold more than 4 million downloads throughout 2009. His album "R.O.O.T.S.," however, didn't make the same impact as its individual cuts.
Introspective rapper and perennial nominee Common went the party route with his more lighthearted "Universal Mind Control," and indie-minded artists such as Mos Def and Q-Tip are also represented in the field. Q-Tip's album, "The Renaissance," was released in late 2008 and featured him melding hip-hop and neo-soul, as well as working with an impressive group of collaborators including Norah Jones and Nelly Furtado. It should be the kind of easily approachable album Grammy voters love, but it's far from the biggest success in the category, as Eminem's first album in five years, "Relapse," rounds out the field.
On the L.A. media blog LA Observed, Kevin Roderick pointed out that Tavis Smiley's recent interview with eternal Beach Boy Brian Wilson was "hard to watch" and possibly the roughest pairing he'd ever seen. I took a gander at the footage and I didn't think it was that bad but it doesn't compare to the free flow that he had with, say, Joni Mitchell, who comes off as a better raconteur than Wilson these days (perhaps Wilson's stories work better in print), especially after her interviewer got her tongue loosened with several doses of golly-gee praise.
Tonight's show brings another pairing that's hard to judge from the two-minute-plus preview clip. On one hand, Q-Tip, whose brilliant solo album lighted up my ears last year, comes off as a soft-spoken guy and that's a personality type that doesn't usually command viewers to keep watching. But, on the other hand, he's got stories galore, like how he was dumped unceremoniously from Arista for not being commercial enough. Who knows whether he'll dig so blatantly into the past though; he seems to avoid such specifics in this clip. Either way, I'm tuning in, if only to keep staring at Q-Tip's fabulous party shirt.
In other Smiley news, the PBS host will be interviewing Ashford and Simpson Friday night. The husband-wife duo recently recorded an update to their 1980s hit, an homage to the president they've dubbed "Solid as Barack." Why didn't I think of that?
-- Margaret Wappler
"Tavis Smiley" on KCET, 7 and 11 tonight. With Q-Tip and Danny Glover.
Q-Tip's 2003 solo album, "Kamaal the Abstract," was never released by Arista, which doubted its commercial appeal. That decision touched off a period in which the Queens, N.Y., native jumped from label to label in the middle of creating new work. Now he returns with his second official solo album, “The Renaissance,” a casually complex, brilliantly executed work of neo-soul made for the street philosopher.
The former de facto frontman of the landmark '90s hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest immediately dispenses with legend, rapping wearily in his trademark nasal flow, "I'm not a deity / I'm far from perfect, see," over a piano line that upends the security of the bass groove on the opening track, "Johnny Is Dead."
Though he gripes that fans are always bringing up Tribe, "The Renaissance" is a showcase for Q-Tip's cool and empathetic consciousness. The trait has made him one of hip-hop's most admired MCs -- even when chiding a girlfriend who cheated on "You," he's reflective and tender.
Q-Tip’s never wanted for friends. Norah Jones, channeling her inner Nelly Furtado, appears on the bright and smooth "Life Is Better," and "We Fight, We Love," with Raphael Saadiq, is one of the album's standout tracks, a sophisticated take on a complicated relationship made even more so by the man fighting in Iraq.
Kamaal Fareed, the name that Q-Tip took in the mid-'90s after converting to Islam, is at the helm here, but like a good actor, he's knows how to draw power even when he's not letting the rhymes go. It's a renaissance with redemption and humility but maybe also, if the adage about success is true, a touch of sweet revenge.--Margaret Wappler
3 and a half stars
Nine long years.
That’s how long it's been since Q-Tip, the iconic “conscious” rapper and primary producer for beloved '90s rap quartet A Tribe Called Quest, last put out a collection of music as a solo artist.
An earlier Times story traces his new album's twisty-turny odyssey from ProTools to iTunes.
But just one day before his second solo disc, “The Renaissance,” hits retail -– and at a moment when hip-hop artists such as Kanye West and Pharrell Williams have largely transcended their rap roots to become tastemakers and early influencers across the cultural spectrum -– it’s informative to look back at the trail Q-Tip blazed outside making some of the most head-nodding, forward-thinking music of rap’s “golden age.”
It’s hard to imagine a time when Hollywood and hip-hop were like chalk and cheese. But in the mid-'90s, Q-Tip was one of the first rap stars to bro down with actor friends and regularly hobknob with movie stars. By dint of his assimilationist tendencies -- Tip was the first hip-hop guy to sample Lou Reed, after all -- the Queens, New York, rapper-producer effectively broke the glass ceiling segregating rappers from other movers and shakers on the pop cultural landscape.