Q-Unique has a had a diverse career and experience in music; from his two most known roles as member of the Hip Hop group The Arsonists and successful solo emcee to the lesser known position as vocalist and front man for the rock band Stillwell. By way of Fat Beats Records, Q-Unique recently dropped a new album entitled Between Heaven & Hell, which has become an initial success despite the surprise appearence and the six year lag since his last album. OneTwoOneTwo sat down to talk with Arsonist member, Stillwell front man and solo emcee Q-Unique about his latest album on Between Heaven & Hell, his time on Rock the Bells tour 2010, and the state of Hip Hop.
Let’s get into some info on the new album. I know when I spoke to you before you had mentioned that putting it together almost came about as a surprise, it wasn’t something you were intending to do right away. What brought you to the boards to get it done.
Q-Unique: Initially was Necro, Necro hollering at me…he was putting together his roster and I was one of the people at the time that he wanted to be a part of his Psycho+Logical roster. So, prior to all that I was doing my band solo, I had all my focus on that, so like you said I wasn’t really planning on, my head really wasn’t into Hip Hop at the moment. But working with Necro to me was something I thought would be really dope because I like his hustle, I like the lane that he made for himself and I like his work ethic and the way he goes about making his way into Hip Hop. It has nothing to do with, you now, if I’m the same type of person that spits the same type of message because I’m not, I’m different from him but I respect him I don’t have any hate for him, nothing but love.
Okay so are you with Psycho+Logical? I know the album came out on Fat Beats.
Q-Unique: Nah, eventually…its ill because we attempted twice to put it out on Psycho+Logical., you know there was a couple of behind the scenes situations which led to me being in a place where I had to figure it out. And D-Stroy had hollered he gave me this speech about knowing my self value and I went up to Fat Beats and pretty much got into business mode, because at the end of the day whenever you’re dealing with a company, this is also word of advice for a lot of people, when you’re dealing with a company you’ve gotta know that at the end of the day it is business. You know when I approach them in a way where I gave them numbers, it was something that just made it go a lot more smoother than me trying to be like “you know my music is dope and listen to this” and…you know I get it, I understand it’s not even about that. It is about what are you going to do as far as business.
Definitely, when you go into a company looking to them for investment you have to come and make it a sensible investment for them even if the music is dope or not dope you’ve gotta justify them spending that money on it. I think we’ve talked on that before. I think that’s when the grind actually starts. When you get a deal, or whatever, that’s when you have to justify your position there. Now, I haven’t gotten a chance to get a copy of the album, like you said it’s pretty much sold out. So, what’s the idea behind Between Heaven & Hell? Let’s start with the cover.
Q-Unique: Man the cover, you know it’s funny because everything about this album was a process and even the cover initially was a different cover where I was holding a Bible in one hand and a pistol in the other and it was a metaphor, a visual metaphor stating Between Heaven & Hell. And I ran into some situations where, one, where my son was in his computer class and they happened to Google my name and the image came up, some of the parents caught wind and gave my son a little bit of a rough time at school and that’s the last thing I want to do. I mean as an artist I never want to surrender my integrity or my art but when it comes to my son there’s gotta be a line that’s drawn. I don’t want to affect his life at all. Then I found out that also that some of the bigger chain stores wouldn’t have been too keen on carrying somebody who is holding a Bible and a gun on an album cover so I had to make a quick decision, a couple of other albums came through and eventually I settled on the final cover because the final cover was put together by one of the original Arsonists members Kriminal Krash. Being that this album kind of marked like a little reunion of the Arsonists click, were having most of them rhyming on the album, it was kind of cool to get also Kriminal Krash to do the artwork because he’s actually the guy who did the original Arsonists logo.
Okay, there are actually two good points in there that I want to definitely come back to. It’s real interesting, which you were saying about your son and how it could’ve caused issues with him and that versus you compromising artist integrity for it. I think that’s a good choice that you chose because artist integrity is one thing but you also have to realize there’s also artist responsibility and personal responsibility as well. Definitely you get props for that.
Q-Unique: Thank you. We are definitely at a time I think, you know, I don’t want…for the sake of not sounding corny, obviously everybody has this mentality of wanting a change with the way that tides have changed politically and I think that even with my lyrics like I assumed a lot of responsibility as opposed to when I did Vengeance I was a lot more reckless with some of the songs.
It comes with just realizing the effect of being a person in a society or even just period. And you’ve got to take that responsibility. Any action you take has consequences whether you see them or not and when you do see them how you deal with them determines the type of person that you are or should dictate where you move to. So that was a good point and I just wanted to highlight that. And another thing was, you said you got the Arsonists on the album, which has been kind of a long time since something like that came together. I know you guys did the Fat Beats in-store together so tell me a little about that, how’d that come back around?
Q-Unique: As far as the album is concerned…we’ve stayed in communication just because we’re not together as a one unit band doesn’t…you know we were friends and we always remained friends, I mean, we developed a brotherhood because of the Arsonists situation, we‘ve been friends for years. It was all about being able to holler at them at the time when I was doing this album and, you know, dudes coming together, not only just to spit rhymes but it’s like certain dudes were very instrumental, like D-stroy was very instrumental behind the scenes as far being the battery and making sure that I didn’t lose any sort of focus while I was doing this album. He was there in the cutting room he was there making sure that I stayed hyped about the situation, Freestyle also helped by some song structure, a couple songs that he wasn’t on that he helped with the song structure and things like that. Like all them came together not only to spit rhymes but also to be there behind-the-scenes. And as far as Fat Beats is concerned, we were just being part of that whole vibe of reminiscing…the same day the Juggaknots were there. These all groups that were a part of the situation when Fat beats first started…we were all there, we were all there just beginning as well so it was more just getting together to reminisce. What was dope was that at all the Arsonists members rolled through wearing Q-Unique shirts because again they’re helping push this situation with the album.
That’s dope. So back to the album, what was the idea that you went into it with or did you just decide “I’m just going to cut a bunch of songs” or did you have a whole idea that you wanted to come out with?
Q-Unique: Well I knew from the reaction of Vengeance Is Mine with songs like “Father’s Day”, “The Set Up”, “Psychological Warfare”, and “One Shot” and one or two other songs, that people were more in tune to when I did that kind of soul…when I came from the soul, when I told stories, when I shed my experiences I noticed that the Q-Unique fans were more into that then when I was unruly and saying some greasy shit. So I stuck to that formula, I thought that that was my strength and I went in a lot more with that than I did with the whole battle rap and in saying that ill shit. I feel like I’m past that now. I feel like I’m…from me, as who I am, I’m not saying that I was the illest by any means or anything, I’m never going to say that I was the greatest at whatever…I just think that just me as an artist I was just passed that point in my life as a lyricist to want to just keep on spitting like “yo this is the illest shit and I’m this crazy, and I’m this ill and I’m this nice” that’s just not me. I’d rather write songs. That’s where my head is at.
So this comes from more of a personal type a space; the lyrics, the energy for this album then?
Q-Unique: It comes from the personal and also comes the fact that because I’ve been dealing with my band for the past five years that…I guess I was in that mode of writing songs because in my band Stillwell I’m a songwriter it’s not just about writing the hottest…first of all I’m not rapping in that band so it’s like disconnecting for a second to go back and tighten up the Q-Unique album, I was still in that mind state where I was writing songs so I stuck with that and now it’s just a part of me. Here and there I did it, like on the first Arsonists album I was doing songs like that here and there and the second one too but now it’s like I’m totally comfortable in that…it’s also a reflection of the type of music that that I listen to most of the time. I listen everything but there’s a certain kind of music that I listen to more than others so…
So the single or the first song I heard off of the album was the “Crack Era” joint that you’ve got the video for. Now speaking to that, what’s the message you were trying to get across with that because you’re saying that you’re a fan of the crack era that some of the lyrics and airs about some of that stuff that was going on back in them days which really isn’t that popular a stance to take. I understand where you’re coming from as far as the music that was going on around that time if I’m understanding you right but it can be kind of a contradictory type of message from what you’re saying earlier about taking responsibility of what the effect is on the children or on other people versus glorifying that this was the good stuff then.
Q-Unique: I think for me, the reason why I underline the fact I’m a fan of the rap from the crack era is because the music back then was…to me, it was genuine. The rappers back then, they weren’t trying to be gangsters, that’s the bottom line and the gangsters back then weren’t trying to be rappers. So I’m just a fan of that moment. To me, Hip Hop has its great moments but to me, for me, in my opinion, that is the greatest moment of all. Boogie Down Productions, Big Daddy Kane, Public Enemy, these…everything that I’m saying…these are legends, these are people that kinda like laid such a strong foundation, they didn’t lay THE foundation but they laid such a strong foundation in there era that I can’t front and the story that I’m talking about in there are like little excerpts of bigger stories in my life and I’m just pasting them all together giving you guys, painting a picture of what I saw as a kid, coming up during that time and then the hook sums it up. It’s just I’m a fan of that…the music that came from that era, like I’m a strong fan and those that know they no relate to it and they also are strong fans of that music, it was a different vibe man and I’m happy that I was there as a fan.
For sure, that is what I suspected your thought process was in doing the track. I wanted to give you a chance to speak on it from there. So, I’m sure there’s more videos coming for the album.
Q-Unique: Were actually working on something interesting right now for…you know what I don’t even want to save man because I notice a lot of people, a lot of rappers these days they say they’re doing this project and that project and a lot of that stuff doesn’t come to pass and I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut and just say you know what I’m working on videos man, and if they come out the way that I envision then everybody will get to see them but if they don’t come out then you won’t know and that’s even better for me then I won’t have to be harassed about CD that didn’t put out or something that I didn’t get to do because life didn’t permit it, you know what I mean? A lot of people just get ahead of themselves and I don’t want to be that dude.
Yea I completely understand and a lot of times it turns out to not even be the fault of the artist, it could just be the project fell through or external forces just didn’t allow it to happen at that time.
Q-Unique: Yea, I mean, case in point my whole journey was Psycho+Logical records, for about three years everybody thought, including myself and Necro, we all thought that my album was coming out on Psycho+Logical records. Yo, it got got as far as the master got handed in and the artwork, not the artwork you see, now but the older artwork it all got handed in.
So this was album that was coming out on Psycho+Logical?
Q-Unique: Yes. So it’s kind of crazy, just like you said, sometimes it’s just, that’s how life twists things, you know, and it’s nothing you can do but go along for a ride and try to do some sort of damage control on the way. The one thing that I’ve learned is to keep my mouth shut until it’s totally confirmed so that I’ll have to keep on answering a billion questions about “yo what’s going on with this”, “why didn’t you do that?” I’d rather just wait until the product is right in front of me and be like here, here it is.
Well, you already let it that slip that you’ve got videos coming out so you’re going to be held to that.
Q-Unique: <laughs> Yea, yea I definitely know that I have got to do another video, I can’t just end it on one.
Yea, so you’re held to that, so you have to deal with the harassment of people like “Yo, where’s the next video at?, “What happened to the next video?” You might have to do web cams it comes down to it and everything falls apart.
Q-Unique: <laughs> Ustream, whatever I can figure out at this point.
Yea for sure. So speaking on the Fat Beats situation and the album coming out on Fat Beats and it seems to be a pretty good success at the moment, we were speaking the other day about people having a hard time getting their hands on it being that places like Fat Beats have shut down do you want to elaborate on anything like that?
Q-Unique: Man, I tell you, man this by far has been something that I didn’t expect because of…it was actually one of those things that as I was handing the album in I was saying to myself, man you know “what is going to be” you know and then I found out shortly after that Fat Beats is closing down and then really I’m like “damn what is going to be her, how is this going to work?” Because, I looked at that place as…at least people can go there, you know what I mean, and now that places isn’t there and I’m like ok, and people are panicking and are writing on my Facebook like “I can’t find it here, I can’t find it there” and it became a little bit of a mess, and I’m trying to do some traffic control and you know, I don’t…I don’t, you know <pause> it’s crazy because I thought that the be-all end-all would be like I could tell people at least it’s on iTunes, you know, it’s there. You could be in any country and go to iTunes and there’s some people that just totally are so resistant to do that and it’s like…man it’s like, damned if you do damned if you don’t, I mean I don’t know what else to do at this point. It’s like, the CDs are out there and I’m blessed that the first batch sold out in its kinda crazy in a way because I didn’t anticipate any of that and then…on top of that we get it on iTunes and there’s people like “Fuck iTunes” and “I can’t fuck with iTunes” you know all these negative like…and I’m like, ok I feel you but at that time for artists in my genre it’s not like we have a whole lot of a support system where we have that safety net. It all goes into this big cycle of people complaining about not finding the product and then people complaining about the Hip Hop that’s on the radio and I’m like you know what, at the end of the day, the reason why it’s so hard to find our product is because the support system is so strange for independent Hip Hop artists because people…a lot of people just download and they don’t understand how that really really hurts the situation and then they complain about the commercial rappers but how can you hate on them their support system is crazy, people are buying their stuff. So it’s like, in order to turn that around…our fan base has to power to fix that if they just supported…us…properly.
Right, buy the records, show up at the shows.
Q-Unique: It’s real simple, it’s real simple man. It’s not our fault. We’re doing what we believe to be good music whether it’s me, whether it’s Ill Bill, whether it’s Dilated Peoples, whether it’s you know, whether it’s whoever we’re all doing what we believe to be good music and our fan base seems to agree but until that’s like really really heavily supported is always going to be that rare product and it’s always going to be hard to find and it’s always going to be hard to find a place that plays it on the radio…you know because the support system is strange, I’m not going to say it’s bad, I just think it’s strange. I don’t hate it, I just don’t understand it. I know what’s wrong with it but I just don’t understand the mentality. You know it’s interesting because Ill Bill, when he put out Kill Devil Hills he sold some copies ahead of time and we were all kinda nervous about because we already knew what that means and within a couple of days somebody had put up all his songs on YouTube and we’re like if you’re a fan, you’ve gotta kinda, understand that you’re hurting the situation man. Why would run and do that? This as an independent rapper, this isn’t a dude that’s on heavy rotation on a major radio station, this is a dude that’s grinding it out, why would you…why would you do that? You know, maybe some people just don’t understand how much they’re hurting, they think they’re doing good by spreading the word but that’s not the way to do. It’s not.
Right, exactly. And I think to some extent it’s also a generational gap people are growing up with the downloading or with the digital delivery as a mainstay versus those that grew up where the physical medium was the mainstay and so you get these differing attitudes about which is the form that the best for them so, you know, yea it’s rough, it’s definitely rough. But! The album is out, it’s available on iTunes, Amazon, etc. Physical stores in New York, no idea because I don’t think there are any more of them left after Fat Beats closed.
Q-Unique: I mean, I got word that it is in Best Buy and it’s in J&R music over here in New York and all that, you know it’s there. And there’s a side to me that’s like, you know what, it’s cool that it’s kind of a rare and hard to find, maybe people will appreciate it more because I know for me, when I was coming up during that whole golden era of Hip Hop, you know, you had to listen to like late night radio to hear some of those jams, or you had to go dig for some of those records, they weren’t that easily available, you had to go and look and maybe that’s a good thing. I remember finding the Stretch and Bobbito show for the first time after like playing around my radio and tripping out and the one before that was P-fine and you know it was like finding buried treasure you know what I mean, maybe it’s a good thing who knows, are maybe I’m just totally out of my fucking mind, who knows.
I feel you on that, so we’ll see what happens with it. I want to touch on the Rock the Bells. You did the Rock the Bells tour, how was that?
Q-Unique: It was dope overall but it was like bittersweet because the first thing that hits you is that…like I found out that last year they did nine tour dates and this year it got cut down to four. Was does that mean <pause> you know, is it that bad? It’s gotta be.
Well think about who was on Rock the Bells last year and this year. I mean, Jay Z did a spot on Rock the Bells last year, you had cats like Snoop and Lauryn Hill on it this year, were talking artists that at certain levels that at 5-6 years ago would never have touched a tour the size of Rock the Bells because they were bigger than that. Then you look at it was cut down from 9 to 4 dates, I mean it’s obviously ridiculously bad but I mean the experience was good and it’s also, again, bittersweet this is kind of one of the only Hip Hop Tours, major Hip Hop tours left for independents.
Q-Unique: There so again, the ongoing joke that started on the tour was Hip Hop is the ninth-inning right now and we got it figured out. Either we can play for extra innings or it’s pretty much a wrap because if you’re in the business of selling records and your angle is Hip Hop music you are definitely looking at the most darkest days that I’ve never seen, you know what I mean, so its like I said you take all of these things into account, poor record sales, poor tour draws, not being able to go on any other tours besides Rock the Bells <laughs> it’s like yo man what’s going on, you know. It’s almost like, I feel like the situation is now control in us. I remember back then people thought we had the control of Hip Hop and you know a lot of big businesses did have a lot of control of the Hip Hop. And now it’s controlling us.
Now, being that the album came out and it was kind of like, to the public, a surprise, like “wow all of a sudden there’s a Q-Unique album about to drop”, how had was the reception on the Rock the Bells tour when you took the stage?
Q-Unique: It was cool. I wouldn’t say..I’m not going to front that it was overwhelming, it was cool. There were definitely people in the audience that knew…people that approached me after the show ready to buy the album or asking me when the album’s coming out or what was going on but people knew who I was and they wanted to know or they wanted to let me know that they knew, either or. So it was either was definitely cool and overall I enjoyed myself, at least I can walk away saying I did the Rock the Bells tour at some sort of level, it was cool.
So what’s the plan on continuing the success of the album from here on out?
Q-Unique: Been doing a lot of promo as far as radio and Internet is concerned. I would love to get into doing some shows the tri-state area, it’s been a while since I’ve done like a full-fledged…like last week I did a quick run through, I did like maybe a five minute set at the EOW anniversary and for me it’s like it’s cool to do those things but it’s not enough, you know? I’m one of those dudes…I want to get onstage and I want to perform, I have a history with the Arsonists and with myself that, you know performances are like something that…I have a high regard for, good shows and good performances, so it’s like I want to get back into that but his like again, you know, everything that I’m saying is crazy bittersweet and I hate that I have to be that way but this is what it is…it’s like, you know when I started to look around to see what was going on again, it’s like it’s another situation where it’s just not a lot of Hip Hop shows going on in the mecca of Hip Hop itself and I’m looking at it like what is going on man, you know? I was going to clubs and looking at their calendars and I’m saying to myself what the hell? Where’s the Hip Hop shows at and just tripping out on it, you know, but…but at the end of the day I’m not going to let it deter me, I’m going to figure it out, it’s just crazy to me I’m just looking at them like this is crazy man.
It’s a conversation I can go on for weeks, so on a positive note anything you want to end with?
Q-Unique: Well, you know, the album is finally here and it’s definitely something that I’m very, very happy with, its an accomplishment in itself to be able to come out again and have people interested, its beautiful and the fans they’ve been awesome you know the way they’ve been responding to the album and the support and everything you know I’m real happy and whatever happens from here <laughs> is going to happen and at the end of the day I’m just really happy to be a musician whether I’m doing rock or whether I’m doing Hip Hop, I’m just happy to be a part of the story and I’m still going to make music no matter what and that’s that.
Q-Unique and the Arsonists perform at Fat Beats during their closing week.