If you ask anyone to list two or three West Coast artists, who’ve made an impact on the urban music landscape, you’d undoubtedly hear names like Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg. Not given the credit he deserves, however, is R&B singer TQ, who has been recording music and penning lyrics for the past ten years.
Personally responsible for the current trend in “reality R&B,” the Compton, California native, is embarking on the most important stage of his career. After many years in the business without the release of a new album, TQ will excitedly drop his brand new LP, “Paradise,” on April 1.
In an exclusive interview with DJBooth‘s DJ “Z,” TQ steps inside the booth to talk about what his 1998 hit single “West Side” has allowed him to do, why never releasing an album while signed to Cash Money has been very profitable, and how different the music industry would be today if the great 2pac Shakur were still alive.
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TQ Interview Transcription
DJ Booth: What’s goin’ on, y’all? It’s your boy “Z,” doin’ it real big, and joining me inside the DJ Booth is a singer, songwriter, and producer, who has repped the West Coast for nearly fifteen years. Set to release his brand new album, “Paradise,” this April, please welcome my main man, TQ – how you doin’?
TQ: I’m chillin’, Z – how you doin’, man. I’m in the building!
DJ Booth: You are in the building; you’re inside the booth. TQ, for those unfamiliar with your many contributions to the R&B game, briefly run down some of your many career highlights so our listeners are up to speed.
TQ: Hm… I guess we should start with back in ‘98, I dropped the album, “They Never Saw Me Coming,” with the single, “West Side,” which is on Epic/Sony Music Group. It was a huge single, needless to say, around the world, and it’s responsible for a lot of things. For me, it’s something that I’m very grateful about. I traveled the world because of this single. I’ve been able to work with some of the biggest artists in the game because of this single. I’ve toured with some of the biggest artists in the game because of this single. I’m just extremely happy about the opportunity I had to write it, and it just goes to show the power of music. Here I am ten years later, it’s 2008, and I still am blessed to have a lucrative career. Man, one thing about this business is, you can be successful, but to have success coupled with longevity, I think that’s what it’s all about.
DJ Booth: That’s a rare quality not many artists can brag about. You mentioned the debut album, “They Never Saw Me Coming,” was released in ‘98. Ten years later, do you still feel they never saw you coming?
TQ: [laughter] Yeah. If I have to say anything about it, they didn’t see me coming, and I think I came a little before I was supposed to, before they was ready to accept what I had to offer and what I had to bring to the table. But one thing that I will say, and, this is not me slappin’ myself on the back – I get this from my peers, my people in the music game who I respect – I feel like I laid down the foundation for a whole genre of music that was lost, and that’s “Reality R&B.” Basically, soul music that’s based on the essence of what soul music is about. If you go back to the beginning of this black music struggle that we all been on, our songs are written about struggle, and the things that we went through every day. Somewhere along the line, it basically changed to a love genre, and I think I was instrumental in taking it back to the days of Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye. You know, “What’s Goin’ On,” and “I’m Your Pusher,” and songs about things that were prevalent to the inner city.
DJ Booth: Couldn’t agree more; the world has many problems, and they’re not all involved with relationships.
TQ: Exactly, exactly.
DJ Booth: In ten years, my friend, you have released four albums, but one of them never made it out; the one that you recorded while you were on Cash Money Records. What happened during that situation that made it go sour?
TQ: First of all, Cash Money is a rap label, one hundred percent. Their plan that they follow, their formula for breakin’ their records, was not completely conducive of what I needed as an artist. I just bring more to the table than that. Nine times out of ten when I’m performing I got a seven-piece band behind me. Cash Money has just got the assembly line way of puttin’ out songs and puttin’ out projects; it just takes a little more for my situation. On top of that, I think there was an element of jealousy, there was an element of tryin’ to put pieces back together as a company on the rebound of a major shake-up, losin’ basically ninety percent of their artists, and tryin’ to come up with a whole new roster. It was a mix of things. I think what made me stay there so long, ‘cause I actually stayed a year after I was supposed to leave, is the fact that I got into this to be a songwriter first and foremost; to be an artist was just something that came out of the sky, that I wasn’t expecting. And when I was with Cash Money I wrote so many records, so many of those choruses on both the Big Tymers albums, the Juve album, the Birdman. I have so much publishin’, so much copyrights on those records, that I kinda wasn’t worried about droppin’ stuff myself, ‘cause songwritin’ was my first love. And still, to this day, I gotta say: the issues between Cash Money and their previous artists have always been about money and not bein’ paid. Well, I can’t sit up here and lie and say them guys owe me anything. Matter of fact, they’re responsible for a big part of my mechanical royalties that I use to eat with. [laughter] I can’t complain about my situation. The worst part about it for me is that my fans for three years were robbed of what they wanted, which was another solo album from me.
DJ Booth: Mm-hm. So you’re saying the publishing checks are still coming in and clearing just fine.
TQ: Oh yeah, definitely.
DJ Booth: Okay, well that’s good. You’re at a new point in your career; “Paradise,” your brand new album is going to be released through indie label Gracie Productions, with distribution through EMI. Now, a complaint amongst our readers is that they feel like you’ve never been given the chance to truly succeed in any of your label situations. Do you agree, do you disagree, and is this current situation your best yet?
TQ: I agree. When it comes down to comparing it with the competition, I do agree with that. But at the same time, I can’t be so upset, because even on records that I released that were quote unquote “unsuccessful,” I got the lion’s share of the income per unit. Do the math: at one hundred, two hundred thousand copies around the world, fifteen cents a pop ain’t really nothin’, but if you multiply that and make it seven, eight dollars, then it’s a way to make a living. For me as a businessman, I look at the decisions that I made and the labels I was with not as bad a situation as it looks. When I look at it as an entrepreneur, it also leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I say how much more could’ve really been done. So that kinda leads me to this situation, where it’s much of the same, the help on the side of marketing and promotion will probably be minimal, but what I’m bankin’ on is the fact I’m a fifteen-year vet in this game, and I feel like there’s enough people around the world that I consider my fan base, that’ll go out and buy my records when I put ‘em out there, as long as they know about it. And with those people, if I can make the lion’s share per unit, then I can make a living and should be able to keep everybody happy.
DJ Booth: Exactly. Just keep on tellin’ yourself, “I’m TQ.”
TQ: [laughter] For sure.
DJ Booth: On the new album, you have a song, “Proud Mary.” You sing the line, “I’m overworked and underpaid.” Knowing that the music industry is currently in a state of flux; do you feel it’s possible for artists to do anything short of work their ass off, and expect to do minimally well?
TQ: It’s basically what it is. The way the music game is today, because of the actual unit that we sell is ever-changing; we don’t really have anything tangible to walk to somebody’s door and say, “I wanna sell you this.” Basically, seventy percent of what we sell is somewhere in cyberspace – it’s a file; it’s not a physical CD or a physical tape or wax or anything like that. It’s basically something that’s intangible, something that you can’t touch, and something that costs a fraction of what we used to sell. The point now is to use music and to use your album and all of the other things that come with havin’ a release, to jump off into other areas.
DJ Booth: We’re gonna make some connections here, between the aforementioned classic hit, “West Side,” and the single off the new album, “Paradise.” You sing the famous line, “All I need in this life of sin is me and my girlfriend,” of course, Tupac. Describe the current landscape of this music industry, if, say Tupac was still alive and with us today.
TQ: Whoo… I personally believe that there are a lot of people who have made a lot of money in this game since Tupac has passed, that we wouldn’t even have heard of if he was still around. I’m not gonna drop any names, but I’m sure that we all kinda look at it. And knowin’ ‘Pac, there would’ve been a couple of people he would’ve cussed out and shut their career down real fast.
DJ Booth: [laughter] Yes he would have.
TQ: [At] the end of the year, I get back into my Tupac phase, and basically compare the best albums I’ve heard in that year to “All Eyes On Me.” And that record came out in, what, ‘95, ‘96, man – I just haven’t heard anything better. I think he’s the standard by which everything else is judged. I think that it’s a lot of cats that better thank baby Jesus that they came out when they did, and may as well ride the wave at this point, ‘cause it definitely would’ve been totally different if my man would’ve been around.
DJ Booth: No disagreement from me whatsoever, TQ. Just recently, tragically, collaborator and friend Static Major passed away. Having worked with him on “Paradise,” explain what the world will be missing now that he is gone, too.
TQ: As far as the things that he was gettin’ ready – so many people don’t know the fingerprint this man has left on music history the way I see it, especially for the last ten or so years. I always say, it’s a lot of people with talent, it’s a handful of people with gifts; Static was truly a gifted individual. In lyrics and melody, he’s definitely one of the all-time greats. If you just go down his discography with all the Aaliyah songs, and Ginuwine, and Jay-Z, and just across the board. The thing that people don’t know about what was comin’ soon. His album was unbelievable. And one thing about Static, with all his accolades as a writer, it’s like, he’s the opposite – me and him was kind of opposite. He was so close to gettin’ that shot, and that’s what was so devastating about his death for me, was that I knew what he wanted to see with his career, and he just wasn’t able to stick around long enough to fulfill it.
DJ Booth: Well, unfortunately he won’t be able to see it, but hopefully everyone else will be able to hear his contributions in music, in song, before that project gets laid to rest permanently.
TQ: Definitely, definitely. You most definitely will – trust me.
DJ Booth: This new album features Krayzie Bone, Jagged Edge, a remix with B.G. Professionally, you’ve worked with hundreds of artists: West Coast representatives down the line, Daz, Kurupt, E-40, Too Short – that list goes on. From this point, TQ, through to the end of your career, if you could only collaborate with one artist or producer, who would you select, from here on out?
TQ: The great Dr. Dre! That’s been a dream of mine, ever since – man, ever since I can remember. “Turn Off The Lights, “ I guess, World Class Wreckin’ Cru. Way back in the day, when I was a little kid, he used to DJ at a little hole-in-the-wall spot down the street from my house called Eve After Dark, and I used to sneak in there with my cousin and just check him out. He had an early night set, and it would just go down, man – he would just tear the roof off that place! Dre painted the picture in my head that the DJ is always the coolest man in the room. I don’t give a damn who’s there – everybody wants to be talkin’ to the DJ, hollerin’ at the DJ, everybody wants to be the DJ’s friend. I learned that, and then, back in 2001, whenever it was, I had the opportunity to go on the “Up In Smoke” Tour and actually open the whole tour. So that just kinda sealed the deal. To sit and talk to the man and pick his brain, as a fan and as a peer who respected him so much, that’s the only dream I got left, man.
DJ Booth: Well, hopefully, before your career’s all said and done, you’ll be able to have that opportunity. I know everyone’s highly anticipating Dr. Dre’s next album, so hopefully once that’s in the bag and wrapped up, you guys can get in the studio.
DJ Booth: TQ, you penned the famous chorus, “One day, everything is gonna be fine, but until that day my only reply is, ‘West Side till I die.’” A little less than ten years later, have we, as a society, made any progress?
TQ: I can say that we as a people, we as a culture, and we as a generation, are stayin’ the course. We fightin’, man. That’s all I can say: we fightin’. I don’t know if we’re winnin’ or if we’re losin’, but I know we fightin’. I can see certain things happening that give you a glimmer of hope for better things in the future, but then as soon as you see two or three of those you can see something that kind of turns you backwards.
DJ Booth: You said you don’t know if we’re winning right now.
DJ Booth: Well, what will it take for us to win?
TQ: It’s gonna take some unity, first and foremost. People are gonna have to understand that, before any decisions are gonna be made as far as betterin’ ourselves, betterin’ our communities, it can’t be done by one person; it’s gonna have to take a team effort.
DJ Booth: Well, actions speak louder than words, so-
DJ Booth: -people need to stop talkin’ and start doin’ – I couldn’t agree more with you. The name of the album we’ve been talking about, of course, that is dropping on April 1st, is “Paradise.” TQ, what does a paradise look like for you? Paint a picture for me.
TQ: I named the album “Paradise” because of the mind state I was in when I started writin’ the record. It’s a point in time in any career, or anything that you’ve done for a long amount of time – just take a basketball player or football player, when they say the proverbial “turn the corner.” You always learn – don’t get me wrong – but it’s the difference between playin’ the game as an athlete and playin’ the game as an accomplished, confident athlete who’s done it before. Once you turn the corner from a beginner to a veteran, and I think I really turned that corner at the beginning of this album. I went into it saying, “F*ck everything – no movies, no shows, no photo shoots, no kind of nonsense that has anything to do with anything other than music.” I cut it out. I went in the studio knowing full well that I was ready to come out with what I felt was my best work yet. I did forty-something songs, I picked the best twelve that explained best where I was as an artist, as a performer, as a songwriter, and as a producer, and when I finished this record, I was fully confident that this was the best that I had to offer, I was fully confident that my fans are going to feel the same way, and then on top of that I listened to my subsequent albums before this one, and I just hear the amount of growth on every aspect. It’s like, you hear an idea, or you hear a track, or you hear something musically, and you know that once you put your sh*t on it, it’s gonna be the bomb. And that’s just the way I feel every time I go into the booth these days, and who could ask for more?
DJ Booth: The album drops on April the 1st. TQ, give everybody information on how to find out more – a website, MySpace?
TQ: Go to my MySpace; that’s myspace.com/tqofficialsite.
DJ Booth: Thank you for joining me inside the DJ Booth. I wish you nothing but the best of luck with the brand new project. It’s great to hear from you once again.
TQ: Thanks a lot, man. Thanks for havin’ me. I wanna tell everybody out there that’s been down with me from the beginning that I love you, definitely the most important part of my career, and I hope that everybody loves “Paradise” as much as I loved puttin’ it together. Go get it, April 1st, it’s on and poppin’. West Side for life!