story Willie G. /// photography Rayon Richards
Kamaal Ibn John Fareed (a.k.a. Q-Tip) has never been one to boast about his material goods, especially cars. But the Abstract’s historic lack of brand-name-ride references shouldn’t be misconstrued for disinterest in automobiles. After all, tales about the party at Jam Rock and the infamous El Segundo excursion wouldn’t have been penned if their author had spent all his time on foot. Yet aside from a handful of VW shouts, there’s not much recorded evidence of how Tip used to roll through his native Queens, N.Y.—or wherever his travels led.
To better understand, you have to actually stare through the leader of the Quest mission’s unique style and remember the time. Back then, hip-hop was more silver and bronze in terms of its whip appeal. Long before Bentleys and Double-Rs graced every rapper’s stable, the early ’90s featured more common rides, such as the Wrangler, Maxima or even MPVs shining like diamonds. Some 15 years later, the game has changed dramatically for everyone involved. On the verge of a new solo album aptly titled The Renaissance, Q-Tip has evolved, too, from German econo-boxes to the likes of a Mercedes G-Wagen. But if you ask him, today’s scene could really benefit from some of that old-school originality. To echo his own lyrics: “Take it from a man who used to rhyme in busted-ass Jettas.”
You are one of the few rappers to ever shout out the people’s sedan. Aside from it being an easy word to rhyme, why the Jetta?
Well, it was all about economics, really. That was what was out there for people. Everybody in the ’hood wanted the Jetta, sittin’ on chrome 17s. And you had to have the dark tint then, too. Every window had to be blacked out. But people would rock Nissans, MPVs—those were the working man’s cars that were still acceptable to be seen in.
Okay, so if Mazdas and Nissans were the around-the-way whips, what would you push once you were stackin’?
Once you had some extra paper, that’s when you’d go get the Jetta…or a Saab. Above that, you’d move to something like a Mercedes 190E—that’s when you were really doing it, when you got that Benz.
It’s still hard to grasp by today’s standards. Were the deals and checks just not on the level of those today?
It’s not just that. It’s also ’cause in that time, nobody really knew much about the other stuff out there. Puffy was like the first to come out to places in a Rolls-Royce. Actually, nah, it was Russell Simmons. I used to drive Russell’s Rolls through Queens. It was white, and he was the first dude in the game to have one. Him, then Puff—but Puff’s the guy who went and made it mainstream.
And then there was no looking back, right? Like if you rhymed about a Jetta now, you’d get laughed at.
I’d still do a Jetta…like trick it out and make it right. That shit would be hard. You could make that shit crazy. A dude like me could do that ’cause you know I got the G, ’bout to get a Maserati, Maybach, whatever. But rockin’ the Jetta, done-up as everyday shit? You could be pulling up to bigger rides, hurtin’ everybody, and they’d know you’ve still got your big-boy toys at home.
That would bring some pain, but what about the dude who doesn’t have the bigger toys back at the crib? Think he could work it out, too?
Dudes would probably try to clown you and shit, but if you put integrity in it and make it hot, you’re good. You know, nobody can really say anything to that.
If your wheel game is right, you skirt it out with the right paint job and a bangin’ system—dudes can’t talk.
So how was yours? One of your old lyrics didn’t make the Jetty sound too hot.
My boy had one that we rolled around in that was beat, but my shit was hooked up. I had it laced. Back around that time, I was driving the Jetta and a 325 BMW, for sure.
Now you’re in the G-Wagen. A bit more mainstream, but it’s still not a whip you hear about in every song. You think today’s rappers lack originality with their car fleets?
I think so. I mean, I’m more of a classic and muscle car dude. Right now I’m looking at getting a prime Barracuda, like a ’71 or ’72, completely refurbished. Something like that could still run 100, 200 large. But the shit is just hot. Niggas don’t really know about it, either. Or maybe crush ’em in a ’69 Camaro SS convertible joint, with the 396 engine. You could really go hard in that.
Yeah, you don’t hear too many ’Cuda raps.
You need to be original. See, dudes don’t really know the car game like that, and they get caught up in the status. Just because somebody like Jay or Pharrell says “Phantom,” everybody’s breakin’ their neck to get it. But something like a Barracuda could run you close in price, and you would be putting the hurt on them—in original fashion. Or mix it up with a Maserati. People have to start putting a spin on things instead of the same cars over and over.
Speaking of originality, it seems like stock is the new “modded.” What’s that say about the big-timers of today?
I think they don’t modify ’cause they don’t know much about it. And they feel like, “No tint, no rims; I’ll keep it factory so everybody knows I’m official.” To me, that takes the fun out of it. You become all conservative, like the quintessential old white man. I’m like, “Why?” You’re young; you’re supposed to be fly—have fun and shit!
True, but how about all the young cats doing their best to look good on budgets? Plenty of dudes hook up 300Cs only to have them called the “poor man’s Bentley.” Can it ever truly go back to how it used to be?
I think it can and already is. Because it’s ultimately about economics and people’s bankbooks. You just have to appreciate what you like and be able to say so. For example, I was out the other day and found myself thinking “That Porsche Cayenne is nice.” Now, Pharrell is my brother, and I love him, but I would love to see him say something like, “The Cayenne Porsche truck is hot.” Or Busta. Again, I love him, but he probably wouldn’t say it either. I would. I get into my cars—the mechanics of them, how they perform—much more than just the aesthetics and names.
Sounds like you could really teach cats a thing or two. And yet the car references in your rhymes have always been few and far between. Can we expect any big automotive science on the new joint?
I’m not the type of dude who just rhymes about whatever he has. That’s not my style. I am a car guy, but when it comes to my music, I like to talk about my emotional wealth rather than my physical wealth.