QD3 Although his father, Quincy Jones, is one of the most important men in the music industry, QD3 has made his mark through his hard work and dedication towards hip-hop. With his latest DVD collection BEEF, as well as his other hip-hop documentaries, his classic production for artists like Tupac, Ice Cube, and LL Cool J, his music scores for movies like Above the Rim and television like Fresh Prince of Bel Aire, QD3 is one of the most prominent diverse figures in the hip-hop scene. Read on to see QD3 talk about Tupac, his father, and his take on the DVD Magazine industry
Interview by Rob Schwartz
WHO?MAG: What made you want to make the transformation from music producer to movie producer? QD3: I did music for a long time. I started back in 1983 producing beats. I had started off in the east coast from working in the Bronx from ’85 and ’86 and was working right next door to Rakim and KRS-ONE when they were doing their very first albums like “Microphone Fiend”. I saw them record that. I was hanging out with Big Daddy Kane and Eric B. and all those cats. I was a roommate with T La Rock, so that was the first golden era. Then when I moved to the west coast in ’89, the first crew I hooked up with before they blew up with NWA was Dr. Drew and Ruthless when they put out their first single “Radio”. So I have seen the first round of everything. I was in the studio, I smelled it and I felt it. It was really exciting the first time around. Then when I left Ruthless and went to work with Ice Cube, I did a lot of work with Ice Cube for about 2-3 years. I did “You Know How We Do It” and “Bop Gun” with him. When that has run its course I went over to the Death Row Camp where I worked with Tupac and all those cats. So having seen the first round of the original foundation, it just seemed that around ’98 or’99, I started to see a lot of repeats and I have always been someone who likes to do things from the heart. Because of that, it didn’t seem fresh and it didn’t seem new and it seemed like the business was declining a little bit. There really wasn’t anyone to really look up to for inspiration. If you have Dre in front of you killing it, it gave you inspiration. It just felt like my heart isn’t in it anymore. The business has changed where the A&R’s are not hired because of their ears, but to hit pocket producers and the politics became thicker. When that happened, I decided to start documenting the first time around and what that looked like. That’s what happened with the DVD series. I wanted to show people what it was really like so that first era doesn’t get lost. We figured who better to start with than Tupac. We did a biography on him. We decided that there were many images of him out there that were two-dimensional verses who he really was. He was engaged to my sister, so I knew there was more to this guy. He was really well read, very much into poetry, all these things that the media didn’t focus on as much. So we wanted to do legacy pieces on hip-hop that really put it down the way it really happened. When you look at TV, you see the advertiser’s version of hip-hop. We wanted to put it down the way we wanted to do it. It was really a project to patent, then it turned into a business after it started to do well. It’s really was my love serenade to a culture that helped me find who I was.
WHO?MAG: While watching your DVD, I noticed you have a lot of incredible stock footage and B roll. Where do you get a lot of your footage? QD3: It’s just when you were in the studio in ’86 and you remember the guy in the corner with the video camera because there really weren’t a lot of video cameras around. It’s basically based off personal experiences and remembering who was in the room. A lot of the stock footage came from “oh yeah, I remember my boy has that from..” opposed to going to professional outlets. It was more from individuals who happened to be around and family members and people like that.
WHO?MAG: In your fathers autobiography, he mentions that it was your idea to integrate hip-hop with jazz on the Grammy Award winning “Back on the Block” album with Melle Mel, Ice T, and Kool Moe Dee. What was it that made you want to integrate the two? QD3: He wanted me to work on his album. We both wanted to work together, but I have always been the kind of person who lives in a hip-hop bubble. Everything I do, I like to bring hip-hop to it. That was how it happened. If you were to ask me in a college thesis who my hero was, it would have been somebody in hip-hop, no matter what. Everything I done always had hip-hop in it. I think it was more of a natural thing than everything else. I started off as a break-dancer when I was about 12 or 13 and that turned into production. I tried rapping for about a week, but that didn’t work. I have always pretty much lived my whole life inside of hip-hop. If I’m going to do it, it’s going to have it no matter what. I don’t think it was something that was planned out when we did that really. One of the goals that we were trying to achieve was to help bridge the gap between the foundation which spawned hip-hop, which was jazz and soul music, with what’s going on now. It was something that we always talked about. Sometimes we even have arguments about the similarities of the culture and all that. It was kind of our way of putting that on wax and bridging the gap, which was kind of cool.
WHO?MAG: While all of your films are hip-hop related, they all cover a wide array of topics. Which one is your personal favorite? QD3: I would say “Beef Vol. 1”. When you have a topic like beef, it’s a really loaded topic. The reason for making it was not to make violence sexy or anything like that. We did more for the “hey, look at Tupac’s mom talking about her son” and we wanted to humanize the beef situations were real. Some of the audience may get involved and root for one party verse the other like it was the WWF, which is cool if it’s a battle rap like Kool Moe Dee verses LL. That’s what that was meant to do, to make people take sides. We also wanted to show the more adverse effect that beef has on the family members of the beef after it started. We wanted to make it make it more humanized so the audience wouldn’t encourage it until someone dies. That was the real message. We were able to mix a lot of history. The first 25 minutes of the movie is all historical. There are old school rappers and old school feuds. We mention how the slaves used to trade words back and forth, but there has always been some kind of verbal battle. We have a lot of history in there and a lot of context, so half way through the series, we get into some more current day series of beef. I just feel that it is a real balanced portrayal of the topic. That was how it came together. It took along time and was very difficult. I like that one a lot.
WHO?MAG: Lately DVD Magazines have been infiltrating the streets pretty thick, but there still haven’t been large quantities in the main chain stores. What needs to happen to make DVD magazines go to the next level? QD3: I think the marketing needs to be really good. I guess it’s the same situation where people start printing their own CD’s where they are hundreds of thousands CD’s instead of a couple thousand. It kind of cluttered the market. Retail is not really as refined at responding what the opportunities really are because a lot of people, like say after “Welcome to Death Row”, “Beef”, and “Thug Angel” came out, a lot of people flooded the market with product. Once those first three went well, a lot of the street product got into the stores because retail saw it was good business. The problem was a lot of the cats didn’t have clearances and that made itself apparent through hundreds of lawsuits during the first few years and retail just kind of shied away from it. At this point, they are sticking with the brands that they know which are ones that deliver sales and a clean record. I think that is part of it. Also, if you are doing something every three months, what happens to the first product you put in stores for the first three months. Does it cannibalize sales? That’s part of it as well, because it’s so frequent.
WHO?MAG: How did you hook up with artist such as T La Rock and Special K? QD3: When I was 16, I went to this party at Russell Simmons’ Management Company. When I was there, I saw LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, and T La Rock before they have really taken off. It was real early. I hooked up with T La Rock and got everyone’s number. Then, when I went back to Sweden where I lived the first 16 years of my life, we had a 48 hour hip-hop jam at a youth center and we wanted some breakers and rappers to come over from New York. I called T La Rock, who came over from the rap side, and we had The New York City Breakers come over for the breaking. They were going to be the main event, but when they came to Sweden, they all stayed at my house. They said if I ever come to New York, I could always stay at their place. It got to the point where when I was 16, I was ready to come to New York. It was at a point where everyone was saying that Hip-hop was about to be over and it was fad, so I decided to go over to New York. I told myself, “Let me go produce one hip-hop artist that I heard about and I will be happy for the rest of my life”. I came to New York and I called up T and was like “Yo, I’m here” and he gave me a spot to stay at. I was basically producing songs for him and his brother Special K as a way to pay rent. We were at Powerplay Studios right there next to KRS-ONE and Rakim and all those cats. That was the foundation for me in hip-hop. They came to my pad in Sweden and then I stayed with them. I honestly think they didn’t expect me to call them, but I showed up and was like, “Yo I’m here”, and that was it.
WHO?MAG: What are some of the major differences you see between Swedish hip-hop and American hip-hop? QD3: There really wasn’t that much of a difference. I have studied this scene so tough that when I got here, I pretty much new everything that was going on except the street name and the lingo and stuff. I think the biggest difference is that there was more of it. Anywhere you go, there will be a core hip-hop audience. They are going to be minorities because in Sweden we had immigrants, public housing products, and out of 9 million people that live in Sweden, about 2 million people live in immigrant public housing. There is a lot of hip-hop there also. All of the same street stuff you see over here, you see over there too. But there weren’t that many big differences. I think LA is a bigger difference that in New York. New York is pretty much the same, but better. They have much better music, much better artists, and more access, more studios, and more labels. It was exciting. I remember the first week I moved to New York, I remember seeing Melle Mel just walking down the block. I was in heaven just getting the chance to meet the artist that you always hear about. It was incredible. I got a lot of pictures I can send you also. The main difference is also access, because in Sweden you only hear the records and have to figure out everything else on your own. There was no internet back then. It was really just having access to the artists and getting to hear it from the horse’s mouth and being able to actually work with them.
WHO?MAG: Your father was one of the first African Americans to film a movie score with “The Pawnbroker”. Since then, you have scored for a variety of films. Do you feel that it’s harder to score a film or for TV or work for an artist on their album? QD3: It’s much harder to do film and TV. I was talking about that today actually. It’s on a scale from 1 to 10, it’s basically 1 verse 10. You cannot compare making a record verse doing film. In film, you might have a scene that has 10 to 40 different points where music has to ramp up and down, but you have to stay on beat. You may get the first five right, but the sixth may not fit in. There’s no musical point to hook a dramatic score to. You just basically have to keep twisting and turning and once you turn that work in after you spent about 2 weeks on a 3 minute segment, and this is before Protools, the director may not like it and ask you to do something else. It’s really tedious and you have to be under the control of the producer and the director’s opinion. It’s the director’s vision that you are trying to fulfill. It gets easier and easier, but the reason why you don’t have so many urban people doing it is because of that. It gets very meticulous, it takes a lot of work and you can’t just mix it and walk away from it. It’s almost like animation where you can work on a one-minute segment for a week and it just passes by quickly in the film. You also look at it like not just as the emotional underscore, but you’re doing a part with a car flying by and there is music in it. If they don’t license anything for that part, then you have to do that music too. Making a track is like going to the gym and just doing a curl with one arm every time. When you’re doing scoring, you need to do so many different flavors. You have to be happy, sad, reggae, rock, hip-hop, or use just beats. It’s like working out every single muscle. From doing movies to doing music is like a cakewalk. It’s good exercise. Also, every time your TV show or movie gets played on TV or cable, that’s a check. The work pays for itself overtime. If you do five successful flicks and five successful TV shows, that’s a reasonable income for the rest of your life. It’s a good business. I would recommend it to any producer to try so that you have permanent income to fall back on. It also gives you good discipline. My pops and I both got good work ethics from scoring films.
WHO?MAG: Out of all the successful artists that you have worked with, which recording session was your most memorable? QD3: There are three people that stand out to me. Tupac would definitely be one. The first time you meet him, he is rolling 300 miles a minute and he doesn’t think twice about anything. He’s like “let’s do it. If you like this song, let’s go.” Boom. He’s not picky. He pretty much took everything I gave him and rapped over it. If you weren’t ready within 10 minutes, he would kick you out and bring someone else in. Working with someone like that is really a producers dream if you could keep up because he is not going to second guess anything. He doesn’t even care what you put in the track, he’s just like “let’s go”. LL Cool J was another one. He was more like a mentor. He gave me some work ethics too. He was just really driven. I don’t think anyone, even Tupac was as driven as LL as in terms as wanting to take it to the next level. Pac just flowed natural and had a lot of energy as a person, where as LL was really intense. He would stay in the studio for days and days and days just trying to push you harder like “try this and try this” and I was like “the song’s done bro”. He would show me not to give up on anything and showed me perseverance and work ethic. Then Ice Cube would be the third one. Almost the most like a mentor to me because as while we were working on the records, he was writing, producing, directing videos, writing all the songs, not just for himself, but for all the artists for their records and soundtracks. He was the complete businessman and he was doing it all at the same time. Plus, when the session was over, he would break out his own checkbook and write you a check right then and there. Cube was the most impressive person to me I have ever seen because not only did he handle the creative, he handled the business too. Also, he was only 23, about a year younger than me at that time. He also had two kids and a wife and would always go home and take care of his family on the weekend and not work. Weekends to him were off limits. He had a really structured life and I really respected that on all levels. A lot of people have a lot of talent in one area, Cube was the complete circle. I really don’t think people don’t understand how much work he has done and how much he has accomplished in his lifetime. He’s incredible. He’s probably the most unsung hero. Even though he is making all these chips now, he is on a different level. People have no idea how involved he was with those records because he was bringing in all those sound effects for those skits and everything. He had the lyrics sheets printed out on computer paper and remember this is back in 1992. He had it all printed out in folders. When artists would come in, he would give them each a sheet of paper and show them how to rap it. I mean he did EVERYTHING! He was like a machine.
WHO?MAG: In a chapter of your fathers book, “Q: The Autobiography”, you go into detail about being brought up in a rough part of Sweden until you eventually straightened up by the age of 16. Do you feel that your most creative influences came from your earlier years with your rough childhood or your later years when you became more structured? QD3: I’ll be honest. I cleaned it up, but only about 20% (laughs). I think pretty much all of it came from my earlier years. I would say that creativity isn’t really up to you, I don’t think so. You can learn how to be better technically, but I feel that if people really feel your music, more like the stuff that me and Pac did or me and Cube did like “Ghetto Bird” or “Letter to the President”, you really can’t study those types of songs. They just come out of you. It’s an emotion that you get inside. When you make a track, you’re pretty much just speaking your mind. I would have to say that it was the earlier years that had a lot to do with that. Plus, the time when I was making those records, my studio was in a part of LA called “The Jungles”. It’s a pretty prominent “blood” neighborhood. Our studio faced a part of “The Jungles” that they called “the Bermuda Triangle” which was the hot bed for drugs, gangs, Jamaicans selling dope, and all that stuff. We probably have seen probably 2-3 people a week get laid out in the back. It was like a reality check. Also, Crenshaw was in the front of the building. We were right there on Crenshaw and Martin Luther King. That was when LA for 5-6 years had the highest murder rate in history of America. Basically, that was like a backdrop. Whenever we needed inspiration, we would look out there, and not to say that was inspiration, but the music was coming from where we said it was coming from. You have to stay in tune with what people are dealing with to make it feel authentic and we were in the epicenter of it. We had bullet holes in the studio walls and everything. It was exactly like everything that was being said on the record was going on right outside our window.
WHO?MAG: How did BEEF get involved with BET? QD3: That is something that our distributor approached them with and just cut a deal.
WHO?MAG: What’s next for QD3? QD3: We just started a QD3 Comcast channel. It’s with Comcast located in Philly on the Urban Beats Channel on the On-Demand. There you can watch our stuff for free in clips. We are going to start putting more and more energy into the channel moving forward. We also have a deal with AMP Mobile, which is a mobile phone company, which is owned by MTV. We are also working on other mobile deals. We are going to keep the DVD thing moving and scaling up to more products and basically want to be a dominant channel in a few years. I feel that we would be the good people to do it because we care about the culture and I love hip-hop to death. I have lost money on things and I have gained money on things, but really at the end of the day, I love hip-hop. Hip-hop is really to me where I found out where my talents lied. If it weren’t for hip-hop, maybe I would have been a failure. I feel like I owe the culture something so that is what we want the culture to be about. Just be true to the culture. Not just keeping it old school, since we move with the times very well. For example, one media company can exploit hip-hop and then another company can feed it and nurture it. We want to help feed it and nurture it where it stays vibrant and alive for a long time. Also to build bridges. I know there is a lot of preconceptions about why people gang-bang and why people do certain things in their rap lyrics. We want to help clarify where all those things come from, from the root of it. That it can be translated to mainstream, so it would not being judged or stigmatized.