Q-Tip is one of hip hop’s greatest MCs and producers. As a member of A Tribe Called Quest, he helped to shape the sound of hip hop throughout the ’90s. The group’s exceptional run of full-lengths became a blueprint for MCs looking to balance the literate and the absurd, as well as producers searching for the perfect (and unexpected) break—Tribe’s influence is pretty much unmatched in hip hop circles. Since Tribe’s split in 1998, Q-Tip has kept busy with a solo career that has included four albums as well as countless productions and guest appearances in places both expected (Mary J. Blige, Kanye West, and Jay-Z) and improbable (Chemical Brothers, R.E.M.). He has also honed his DJ chops, spinning regularly in New York City and beyond.
Hip hop’s golden age began in 1986, the day Rakim stepped to a microphone to record “Eric B Is President.” Only 18 years old (though he sounded considerably more worldly), Rakim (real name William Griffin) had a smooth, effortless flow that brought a cool melodicism and high intelligence to the MC game—he gave both fire and ice, set within the wiry frame of his serious features. Even those who didn’t get the Five Percenter reference wouldn’t have bridled at his nickname, God. His partnership with his DJ, Eric B, yielded four great albums and numerous classic singles before Rakim split for a solo career. Despite initial success with 1997’s The 18th Letter, he endured several frustratingly fruitless years signed to Dr Dre’s Aftermath, working on an album that never came. Now Rakim back in his native New York, the city where his immense influence is most clearly audible, notably in other NYC wordsmiths such as Nas. As recently as 2012, The Source named him the greatest MC of all time.
Hip hop’s last enigma sits down on the Academy couch to break down the message behind the mask, rap beef behind his different personas, and why good things come to those who wait.