Ali-Shaheed Muhammad to Play Scratch (WEB VERSION)

Pull Q/Hip-hop has had so many different life-cycles<br/>JAY - this is the long web version for alex to put on web

Feature by Bram Gieben | 15 Feb 2006
For hip-hop fans, Ali-Shaheed Muhammad needs no introduction. The award-winning, million-selling producer of seminal NYC group A Tribe Called Quest, he is responsible for classic albums such as 'The Low End Theory' and 'Midnight Marauders,' and more recently a solo album, 'Shaheedullah & Stereotypes'.

Ali-Shaheed is coming to Edinburgh on the Friday Feb 3, where he will play an exclusive DJ set for Scratch, at the Bongo Club. He took time out from producing for his new label Garden Seeker Productions to talk to The Skinny.

Did you start out as a producer, a DJ or an MC?

My uncle taught me how to DJ when I was eight years of age. Eventually, by the time I was thirteen, I really decided to take it seriously. I started doing parties locally and when I went to high school I met Q-Tip. He asked me to make a DJ tape for him, he liked it, and he asked me to be a part of his group, and from there everything followed. My uncle had some studio equipment, so I started playing around with keyboards and sampling, and that's how it all came together. Back in the day, on the Tribe records, we also incorporated some live instrumentation here and there, but the majority of it was all samples. The last album (2004's 'Shaheedullah & Stereotypes') I did was all live, but right now I'm using a combination of both live instruments and samples.

You are in the studio just now, what's the latest project, and who are you collaborating with?

I have started a record company called Garden Seeker Productions; I have two artists. One has finished his album - Kay, who was featured on 'Shaheedullah & Stereotypes,' and also Chip-Fu of the Phu-Schnickens - he is almost done with his album. I'm also working on my own solo record. I'm not sure if I'm going to do a lot of collaborations, I'm just compiling the music and writing lyrics at the moment. I'm sure there's going to be a lot more rhymes from myself on this one.

How much contact do you have with the Tribe family these days - do you still work with Phife and Q-Tip? What about the Native Tongue connection with De La Soul, the Jungle Brothers and others?

We speak to each other in the modern way, text messaging and email and so on. We still have a contract with Jive to finish one more album, but I'm not sure where we're standing. The year before last we started touring together for the first time in eight years, and the response to that gave us the inspiration to maybe try to do an album, but at this moment we haven't really put any effort towards that project.

Your music has got a deep, spiritual side, and always has done. Can you tell us how your faith and morality inspires you musically?

My faith has a lot to do with who I am as a human being, I'm always aspiring to grow even further. As with life, we don't stop growing unless we mentally put up a road block and say we refuse to learn. It has a lot to do with my upbringing; I grew up in a single parent home, but my Mom really took the time to cultivate my sister and I and to instil certain 'life understandings' within us, so that as we got older we were able to make good decisions. I know with a lot of kids these days, that's not really the case. If they are blessed enough to have a dual parent family, the parents are usually working their butts off to put food on the table and maintain whatever little thing they have, and the kid is left to the internet, and videos and so on. There's not much of a direction, not much of a communal feeling going on. People are left to deal with their own thoughts and feelings. I didn't have that type of upbringing, so a lot of my personality comes from my Mother.

Do you think hip-hop encourages a feeling of community?

With Native Tongue we had a real communal vibe of creativity going on, and I think to a certain extent that still exists. You have producers like Little John bridging the gap to a lot of Southern rappers. Outkast has his little crew, Ludacris has his crew and collaborates with a lot of artists. The hip-hop community still exists, people like Talib Kweli and Jean Grey will still collaborate, but there isn't one communal movement. It's a lot of little crews, but that shows a camaraderie and unity. At least, more than in the nineties, when you had people really going at one other. I think hip-hop has had so many different life-cycles, and there seems to be a sense of community coming back.

With grime and garage, UK hip-hop is changing to a harder-edged sound. What do you think of modern UK hip-hop, and who do you rate?

I have heard Dizzee Rascall and Wiley. The group Roll Deep, that they came out of - they are tight.

Finally, what can we expect when you grace the decks at Scratch next month? Will you be treating us to some Tribe classics?

I'm such a lover of so many different types of music, it's hard to say. This will be my first time spinning and doing a DJ set in a long time, so I'm thinking of just so much... As I get older, music continually changes - it seems every five years there's a new style. Those kids who were thirteen or fourteen a few years ago, they're at the age when they can go the clubs, so you have to be current. I know a lot of my fans are interested in seeing what I'm going to bring. What I've noticed in the past year is that people are really shocked at some of the stuff I decide to play. I think people have this love affair that I'm this jazzy, cool guy. I am that, but I can appreciate a heavier artist, and how that might be motivating to the youth right now. Another favourite of mine is R&B disco classics. Depending on the age back in the US, sometimes the crowd gets tired, and they're like, "What's this old music?" So I hope there's some young folk, and a good mix of ages. Also playing for two hours, that's not a lot of records. I find when I go to places that really enjoy music and are open-minded, I always feel like I'm cheated, but then that leaves me the opportunity to return! I don't know what I'm going to play man, it could be some Leon Haywood, some Michael White, it could be Jaylib, I just don't know!

Ali-Shaheed Muhammad at Scratch, The Bongo Club, Edinburgh, £12/£10 in advance.,