Interview by: Martin Bauman
If Toronto’s LordQuest isn’t on your radar by now, it’s time to get familiar. The producer/emcee has had a strong start to 2014 already, with key placements on Talib Kweli’s Gravitas (“Demonology” and “State of Grace” – the latter of which is arguably the standout track off the album) and ScHoolboy Q’s Oxymoron (“Blind Threats” – again, in contention for the album’s standout track). He’s more than just a producer, however; last year he made his solo debut with Still Shopping, intent on proving to listeners that he can hold his own on the mic. The verdict? Mission accomplished. We caught up with LordQuest to talk about Dilla’s influence on him, his vinyl collection, the greatest thing he believes we can do as human beings, and much more. Read the interview below.
TCUS: I want to go back to the beginning. How did you first get into hip-hop?
LordQuest: I started out rapping, actually, in elementary school – grade 8, grade 9, starting high school. I grew up in a heavily music-based family, so like most artists, it was just around. If it wasn’t hip-hop, it was gospel, it was jazz, R&B, soul… But my dad was the first person to actually introduce me to hip-hop. When I was younger, he introduced me to A Tribe Called Quest, Tupac, and Biggie.
TCUS: If you could pinpoint one album that influenced you the most when you were growing up, what would it be?
LordQuest: A Tribe Called Quest’s Beats, Rhymes and Life. It was one of my dad’s favourite albums, and I would always find myself listening to it. He would always be playing it in the house, whether he was cleaning, or just hanging out. As I progressed, I found myself gravitating towards that album more, and I’d keep playing it. I didn’t know why; I just loved everything about it: the sounds, the way the emcees had approached the track, the message, everything about it. It just really spoke to me. I always found myself listening to Tribe. It helped me build my appreciation for music, and helped me build my desire and drive to want to make music. I wanted to make music that had soul, that had a feeling, that had a meaning. That’s why that album has stuck with me to this day.
TCUS: If you started with Beats, Rhymes and Life, and what point did you go back to Midnight Marauders and Low End Theory?
LordQuest: Wow. I feel like I really started to dive into the anthology of Tribe Called Quest probably in my later high school years. That’s when I started to do my research, because I didn’t really know much about the artists. Like, I knew the album was A Tribe Called Quest’s album, but that was about it. As I met more people and was introduced to more music, then I started to know more about the music in general. That’s when I was introduced to J Dilla, and for me, that was a game changer. That’s when I started to realize that a lot of the music that I was really excited about and felt a connection to was produced by this one person. I started going back to Low End Theory, and then Midnight Marauders, and as time progressed, The Love Movement came out. Dilla was – and is – a huge part of what I do.
TCUS: Speaking of Dilla, back in 2011, you released an instrumental project called A Letter to James. Tell me about J Dilla’s influence on you.
LordQuest: It’s crazy. The Letter to James project was [something] that I was working on; [it was] a bunch of instrumentals that I was gonna release on Dilla’s birthday. The story with that is kinda funny, because I didn’t really release the project initially. I had put it up on my Bandcamp, but I didn’t tell anyone about it, because I wasn’t sure when I wanted to release it, and I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to release it. I guess people just kinda found it with the magic of the Internet, and it went on its own. But yeah, J Dilla is amazing. I don’t think there’s anyone – or will be anyone – like him. He’s just one of a kind. He’s like a Picasso or a da Vinci.
TCUS: Besides Dilla, who’s your biggest influence production-wise?
LordQuest: Man, I’ve got a whole bunch. But if I had to pick, I would say Kanye West. The way he [makes] music is like nobody else. The way he can [visualize an idea] and take it from start to finish is crazy.
TCUS: Let’s go back to another early point of your career. What can you tell me about the SoundCheck Show on CHRY?
LordQuest: The SoundCheck Show was awesome. Me, Gavin Sheppard, DJ Grouch, DJ Fingerprintz, Contagious… it was a dope time. It was a great experience for me, because I was learning a lot at that point in time. Those guys really took me under their wing and educated me, and helped me grow as a musician and a lover of music.
The way I got involved with SoundCheck Show was through my buddy Gavin Sheppard, actually. Shout outs to him. He had been working this program at the time that was known as Inner City Visions, which is now known as the Remix Project. I was working with him on that, and he had told me about the radio show, and I had heard it a couple times. He invited me up one night, and I came up and just really liked it. I just kept coming around – literally, just kept coming around. Every Thursday, I would show up on the dot at 10:00, and I’d just be chilling, doing the bus boy [kind of] stuff: go get drinks, go get whatever.
As time progressed, it was like, “okay, this guy’s not leaving. He’s actually trying to be down.” So then they opened it up to me, like, “you know, if you want to be a part of this, [join us].” That’s basically how that came about, and yeah, it was an awesome experience.
TCUS: Tell me about this story. Is it true you once had a meeting with 50 Cent?
LordQuest: Yeah! I had a meeting at G-Unit, because I had to meet with one of their A&Rs. It was kinda crazy. We were in the meeting, and we were actually wrapping up the meeting, and 50 came into the room. The A&R introduced me to 50; he was like, “hey 50, I want you to meet somebody. This is LordQuest.” I shook his hand, and he was like, “yeah, I know who you are. You’re working with ScHoolboy.” I was like, “yeah!” It was the trippiest thing. We got into this whole big conversation about restaurants and food. But yeah, he was mad cool, real down to earth.
TCUS: Getting back into your production work, I know you’re also big into vinyl. When did you start buying records?
LordQuest: I first started buying records in grade 9. My first record I bought was this Hall & Oates record. I don’t even remember the name of the album, but it was some bookstore/record store spot. I went with one of my homies after school, and we were just digging, and I [saw] this one Hall & Oates record. The cover was mad trippy, so I was like, “hey, cool!” The dude was like, “yeah, it’s a dollar,” so I was like, “let’s do this!”
TCUS: Of all the records you own, what’s your most cherished record?
LordQuest: [I have] two, actually. My first is all my Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson records, hands down. I love the Jackson 5; I grew up on that. Those guys are just amazing, and their music is timeless. The next would have to be my Donna Summers picture record. She’s awesome, and that record was a rare record, and I didn’t even know. I just had it sitting there, and one of my buddies who’s really into record collecting – my boy Crooklin [from Smash Brovaz] – he told me it was a really hard record to get a hold of.
TCUS: Speaking of records, what can you tell me about Gary Burton’s Las Vegas Tango?
LordQuest: [Laughs] Ahh man! It’s an awesome jazz record. The album in general is an awesome album, but that particular song is just beautiful musicianship at its best. That’s the cornerstone of the ScHoolboy Q “Blind Threats” record.
TCUS: I know you’ve had a relationship with ScHoolboy Q for awhile now, but you actually first got in touch with ScHoolboy Q through Kendrick Lamar. Tell me about how you and Kendrick first connected.
LordQuest: One of my old high school friends had introduced me to Kendrick’s music at the time, and this was years back – this was before Kendrick blew up. It was around the time that he had just released the Kendrick Lamar EP. My homie was like, “yo, you need to check this dude out, he’s dope. He’s an up and coming guy; I really think you’d like him.” I was like, “okay, cool,” and checked out his music, and I was like, “this guy’s amazing.”
I literally just sent him a message on Facebook [saying], “hey, I heard your music. I like it. I’d love to work with you.” He hit me back, and was like, “cool,” and it was just peace from there. We just connected from there, talking back and forth, sending stuff to each other, and eventually I met Q, and then Ab-Soul, and so on and so forth.
TCUS: I want to ask about another West coast group of emcees that you’ve worked with in the past. How did you make a connection with TiRon and Ayomari in the first place?
LordQuest: Oh man, that’s family! TiRon and Ayomari… I met TiRon the same way [as Kendrick] – I hit TiRon up on Facebook. We have a mutual friend: my good, good friend – he’s like my older brother – Tunji from L.A. Him and TiRon are good friends as well, so when I hit TiRon via Facebook and we [started] talking back and forth, when I had the opportunity to actually go out to L.A. for the first time, we actually got to sit down in the studio. It’s been peace ever since. That’s my homie. TiRon is like one of my bigger brothers; I talk to him at least once a week, just for inspiration. Whether we’re talking about music or life, I talk to [him] all the time. He’s one of the most amazing people that I’ve ever met.
TCUS: You mentioned Tunji there. I was speaking to Talib Kweli a couple weeks ago and he told me how Tunji put him on to your production, and that’s how “Demonology” and “State of Grace” came about. Tell me about that experience of working with Talib Kweli.
LordQuest: It was really dope, actually. Tunji hit me up and told me he had sent some stuff to Talib, and I was like, “alright, cool.” I was actually getting ready to go to New York – I was literally leaving my house in an hour – and he shoots me this email, and it’s a Talib Kweli record over this beat that I did. I was like, “okay, that’s what’s up!” Two days later when I was in New York, Talib hit me and was like, “yo, come to the studio. Let’s meet up tonight.” That was that. We got in the studio, vibed out, and those two records came about.
TCUS: We’ve talked a lot about your production, but I want to talk about your rapping as well. You put out Still Shopping last year, which was your solo debut. Of all the lines you’ve written, which stand out above the rest as being the most memorable to you?
LordQuest: For lyrics, I would say “SunSet Limited.” [That] and “Swan Dive” were the joints, as far as [ones] that stood out to me. With “Swan Dive,” when I heard the sample, it just happened. With “SunSet Limited,” everything about that song was amazing. When I did that song, I made it in Cuba. I wrote the song on the beach; I made the beat on the beach; I did it all. It was just a great feeling. Even the name of the song originates from a movie that I was watching while I was in Cuba – it was an HBO special with [Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson]. I was watching that, and it was really inspiring. [Later on], I was going through my iPod, and I was listening to a bunch of albums on there, and I had this Blossom Dearie album, and that record was on there. It was just perfect, and I wrote it [while] chilling on the beach. I looped it on my iPod, and when I got back, I recorded it.
TCUS: Speaking of “SunSet Limited,” I’ll bring up another line off the song that jumped out to me. You say, “ignorance is bliss, but acknowledgement is bold.” Tell me about that line.
LordQuest: With that particular line, I was speaking from a standpoint of a young adolescent, and especially coming from a generation where a lot of us are starting to open our eyes and see what’s around us, and get hip to this world. The generations prior were kind of just coasting and going with whatever was given to them, and in the information age, everyone has the ability to reach out and actually find what things are about.
It was partially making reference to the Kendrick record, “Ignorance is Bliss,” because it’s one of those things people say all the time. Ignorance is bliss. When you don’t know, you don’t care, you don’t worry, you don’t feel, you know? But at the same time, to acknowledge something is a bold movement in itself, because you’re saying that, “yeah, I’m aware of this, and I understand the consequences of this. I’m willing to accept that, or I’m willing to make that change.” That was the premise of that line.
TCUS: I’ll ask you about one other line. In “Blessed INtro,” you rap, “I got plans to reach the star and the moons like Neil Armstrong/ but I kneel, ’cause my arms ain’t strong enough to hold on to heaven’s weight.” Tell me about this line.
LordQuest: I’m a believer of God, so I know that everything I do and everything that I’m going to do or have done is not of me, per se. I’m the one that’s doing it, but there’s a higher power that’s giving me the energy and ability to do this. Without that, and without acknowledging that and being thankful for that, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. That’s why I say “I kneel ’cause of heaven’s weight.” The power and the glory alone, no man can hold that, so you have to kneel before that and give thanks. That’s the only way it’ll work for you.
TCUS: You’ve had such a great start to 2014 already, with placements on Kweli’s Gravitas and ScHoolboy’s Oxymoron. What’s next for you?
LordQuest: I’m working on doing a little EP – just remixes and some more production stuff. I’ve got a couple projects from the hometown coming out: WolF J McFarlane’s Live Your Live Vol. 2, my brother Promise’s new album… I’m trying to think what else I can actually say [laughs]. I’m working on a new project for myself. I don’t know the name as of yet, but that’s gonna be coming late 2014 – probably just an EP. That’s pretty much all I can really say right now, but there’s gonna be a lot of dope stuff coming. Things are looking exciting.
TCUS: Final question for you: what do you want your legacy to be?
LordQuest: Wow, that’s a deep question. I want my legacy to be great. I want my legacy to be me. I want my legacy to be meaningful, you know? I want to know that at the end of the day, my music helped somebody – and I think that’s the greatest thing you can do as a human being to mankind: doing something that helps or benefits mankind. If I know that a song I did helped someone get through their day, then I’m good with that. That’s an accomplishment in itself, because that’s the whole point. We’ve gotta help each other to move forward and progress, to be better and do better.