words by William E. Ketchum, III
Q-Tip is naturally known as the frontman and visionary behind A Tribe Called Quest, but his skills behind the boards don’t stop with the midnight marauders. Of course, he crafted the soulful, jazzy sound of ATCQ, but between his solo credits and his work as a member of The Ummah (alongside Ali Shaheed Muhammad and J Dilla), Q-Tip has put together a production catalog that solidifies his position in the rap pantheon. With consistently lush basslines and swinging drums, it’s easy to see how Q-Tip’s gig as a DJ informs his production: it’s nearly impossible to listen to his compositions and stand still.
The Queens native born Jonathan Davis–now known as Kamaal Ibn John Fareed –has been instrumental in the ascension of some of rap’s greats, and decades later he’s still holding his own, working with the likes of Kanye West and Esperanza Spalding. In celebration of his birthday, read below for some of The Abstract’s standout freelance productions.
10. RUN-DMC, “Come On Everybody”
Run-DMC enlisted Q-Tip for “Come On Everybody,” a song from their sixth album Down With The King. The Abstract brought his signature robust drums and stacked them with echoing horns giving a strong backdrop for Reverend Run and D.M.C. to pop their shit.
9. Craig Mack, “Get Down”(Remix)
Q-Tip has his share of remixes that measure up or outdo the artists’ original versions, and one of those is his remake of Craig Mack’s “Get Down.” Q-Tip’s spacey, atmospheric backdrop gives an even mellower feel to the highlight from Mack’s debut Project: Funk Da World.
8. The Throne, “That’s My Bitch”
Kanye West pegged Q-Tip to join his Very G.O.O.D. Beats imprint, and he was one of many musicians involved in the creation of his classic My Beautiful, Dark Twisted Fantasy. His presence in the crew continued with Watch The Throne, which features the song “That’s My Bitch.” Q-Tip brilliantly combines the drums from South African band Assagai’s “Telephone Girl” and the oft-used “Apache” break by Incredible Bongo Band, making a funky soundbed for Jay and Ye’s rhymes.
7. Mariah Carey, “Honey”
Mariah Carey had already established herself as a pop princess in the mid-90s, but her affair with hip-hop began with “Honey.” Q-Tip’s bouncy drum programming and Stevie J’s infectious keys helped make the song accessible and dance-ready, catapulting it to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and earning a platinum plaque. The album Butterfly would go on to go 5x platinum, selling 3.8 million copies in the US.
6. Whitney Houston, “Fine”
Mariah Carey isn’t the only ’90s starlet Q-Tip produced for. He and Raphael Saadiq teamed up for “Fine,” a single from Whitney Houston’s fourth greatest hits album. Laid-back guitars and snappy percussion make for a relaxing mid-tempo number that sees Whitney letting herself fall into the groove.
5. Crooklyn Dodgers, “Crooklyn”
One of Q-Tip’s best beats was for a trio that technically only had one song. The original Crooklyn Dodgers – Buckshot, Special Ed and Masta Ace – had a song called “Crooklyn,” which appeared in Spike Lee’s 1994 film of the same name. Q-Tip’s timeless, jazzy production integrated samples from Black Moon’s “Who Got Da Props?,” Gang Starr’s “The Place Where We Dwell,” and a broadcast of a Brooklyn Dodgers baseball game, resulting in an East Coast classic.
4. Nas, “The World Is Yours” (Remix)
The buoyant horns and lilting piano of Pete Rock’s production on “The World Is Yours” will always be legendary, but don’t sleep on Q-Tip’s remix. His dusty, subdued version is a great alternative to the Illmatic highlight. Where Pete’s manipulation of Ahmad Jamal’s ivory tickles gave the original a more optimistic, celebratory tone, Tip’s use of Les McCann (covering Stevie Wonder) brought out the more reflective undertones in Nas’s lyrics.
3. Mobb Deep, “Give Up The Goods”
Q-Tip was the only outside producer on Mobb Deep’s The Infamous, and he more than held his weight with “Give Up The Goods (Just Step),” one of his three contributions. He wrapped his crisp snares around an ethereal Esther Phillip’s loop creating a felonious canvas for Prodigy, Havoc and Big Noyd’s robbery tales.
2. Apache, “Gangsta Bitch”
The late Flavor Unit MC Apache only had one solo album, but the Q-Tip produced “Gangsta Bitch” still sounds great more than 20 years after its 1992 release date. Tip’s surgically excavated the nether regions of Monty Alexander’s cover of Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” creating the perfect beat for Apache to profess his love for women who are just as rough around the edges as he is.
1. Nas, “One Love”
When it came to his contribution to what would become known as the best rap album of all time, Q-Tip didn’t pull any punches. “One Love,” which sees a young Nas writing to his homie behind bars, is backed by an eternally recognizable Heath Brothers xylophone loop and dusty drums. Even on a classic Illmatic album with production from legends like Pete Rock, DJ Premier and Large Professor, Nasir’s touching rhymes and Q-Tip’s melancholy backdrop make “One Love” a standout.
John Legend, “Tomorrow”
Consequence, “Got Me Trippin”