Q lights, Q studio, QDIII...
In rap, the first break is the most important. British-born, LA resident QDIII got his as a breakdancer for Nike. As for becoming a producer himself, he got the fever from hanging out at hip-hop jams and working out exactly what moved people. After being influenced by the likes of Stevie Wonder, the Isley Brothers and Mantronix, one record in particular really fired his youthful imagination. That record was 'Cold Getting Dumb' by Just Ice.
"That was the day I knew I was going to be a producer," he recalls fondly.
Combine that with the fact that Quincy Jones is his father, and it seems only natural that QDIII would realise his ambitions in the music field rather than pursue a childhood ambition as a martial arts teacher.
"We used to hang out in the parks at hip-hop jams and so forth, and it just evolved," he says. "I wanted to start rapping and the production just came naturally." One of his first jobs was a track called 'Nitro' with T La Rock.
"I lived in New York at that time and we just hooked up at a party or something, and I ended up living at his crib for a while. I didn't know the scene or whatever. I was lucky, definitely."
Then came his solo effort Soundlab - a showcase of talent assembled by the prodigy.
"Basically what that was, I had a bunch of groups, but I was shopping around, so I took it up to Warner Brothers. They were the ones who suggested I do a compilation album, and if we got a good response out of any of the other groups, we would do a solo album. That was what led to Justin Warfield's My Field Trip To Planet 9."
And even though Soundlab wasn't a rip-roaring commercial success, it still holds a special place in his heart.
"It did OK; basically it wasn't promoted too well and the way I look at it was like a learning experience. It was basically like a platform where I could try different stuff out."
An experience which obviously paid off, as the offers of production and remixing work began to pour in. So who else has been touched by the hand of QDIII? How's Tairrie B, Naughty By Nature, En Vogue, Ice Cube, Yo Yo, Da Lench Mob, Special K, LL Cool J, Latifah, and The Whooliganz for a list of credits - and that's only half the story. Along the way he's built up a sturdy reputation, although he cites both LL - for whom he produced three of the tracks on 14 Shots To The Dome - and Ice Cube (four tracks on last year's Lethal Injection) as being his big stepping stones.
"I've been doing this for a long time, but I would say my big break was when I did LL Cool J. Pretty much after I hooked up with Ice Cube things started rolling real cool. Ice Cube is like... everything he says he does it, he handles his business properly."
So how does QDIII actually get his work? Is it through word of mouth or is he always commissioned?
"It's a little bit of both. Basically I'd be in the studio with Da Lench Mob or Ice Cube and somebody might walk in, I give 'em my card and that's it, basically."
The association with Cube almost didn't happen.
"He just gave me a call and I didn't call him back for six months, 'cos I thought it was a prank," he confesses. "He rang me up and he said, 'This is Ice Cube and I want you to do some stuff for me' and I thought this was a prank caller. I didn't wanna call back the number and then six months later he said, 'Why didn't you call me back?'"
Did you feel stupid? "Yeah," he laughs.
How do you perceive your role as a producer?
"I pretty much let the vocalists do what they gotta do and if something sounds kinda crazy I let 'em know," he explains. "Basically I'm there as like an honest opinion to the artist and I provide the music. I pretty much let the artists do what they feel like doing, I don't really try to shape their sound at all."
So who was the worst artist he's ever worked with?
"We talked about this already, you figure it out!" he chuckles.
"It's not an easy job. You gotta be at it everyday and you gotta be willing to take the downside with the good side"
Why does QDIII feel people are only now noticing his production skills after all these years on the scene?
"I'm not sure," he replies. "I think it was because in the last two years I've been doing gangsta rap and haven't really messed with that before. I was in the right city for it, it happened that way. It was kinda ironic because I had never done any gangsta stuff before and as soon as I started doing it, the shit started blowing up. I ain't gonna argue with it. When I was younger I wasn't as focused. We started going after things a lot more since '91. I was taking my production seriously. Before, I wasn't 100 per cent."
How does it feel to be flavour of the month now? Is there a certain amount of pressure that goes with it?
"Definitely," he says candidly. "That's why I don't want to box myself in. I don't want to do a certain type of record with a certain type of sound for too long. Like for '94, I plan to come out with a whole new flavour. I might get dissed for it, but at least they won't pass me off as last year's fad."
Is that a mistake that a lot of producers make - duplicating their sound on every other record they create?
"What I think happens is that they get popular and they get flattered when people call 'em for work, and they don't turn anybody down... They take on too much work and do a half-assed job on like 20 records instead of doing ten dope records. But I think nowadays it's such a fierce market out there that everybody's doing pretty good."
Total dedication, says QDIII, is what it takes to become a first class hip-hop producer. Q practically spends his life in the studio, every week, five days on the trot - he even sleeps there. And as far as he is concerned, anyone can do it.
"With hip-hop, what basically happens is that you learn what people like at parties and stuff, and then get your first drum machine and turntables, get your 4-track and just build slowly. You just start working with homies around the way and it kind of builds real gradually - and you look up one day and, hey!"
Is it really that easy?
"Yeah! I would say anyone could do it, but the main thing is you gotta be honest with yourself. You can't stay couped up in your room and not play your stuff to nobody and expect to be incredible. You gotta know what people are into if you wanna be successful."
But you obviously have to possess qualities such as persistence, determination and an open mind - attributes that not everybody can stake a claim to. So what makes a good producer?
"Basically somebody who's... um... interested in all aspects of music. As far as playing, what instrument gets this type of sound, y'know. Basically, a person who does a lot of research, somebody who doesn't box themselves into one category."
So it's long hours holed up in a dark room, with a mind that has to be constantly creative, no matter how hard you've worked and how tired you may be. So what motivates a producer, above and beyond the obvious financial gains to be made?
"I'm not sure. I think that people who become artists are more performers and the producers are more introspective. I just enjoy music so much that for me there's nothing else I could really do. Plus the studio equipment fascinated me a whole lot, that was the main thing for me.
"You have to have the understanding that it's not an easy job - you gotta be at it everyday and you gotta be willing to take the downside as well as the goodside. You could hand your project into someone - it's your first demo, right - and you shop it and the record company says 'Well, we don't think it sounds good'. You could either say, 'Well f**k you' or you could say, 'I'll be back next week with another demo', and the latter is the way to go."
As for the future, QDIII is getting busy with his production company, Soundlab Productions, with a catalogue of new artists to emerge in the very near future. There's Rodg, a rapper from Compton; X Man, with a Domino flavour; and the ubiquitous, fresh-sounding Robert White.
"You're always trying to convince a label that this new flavour you have is incredible," he says. "Sometimes they don't always hear it, so we pretty much give ourselves a chance to put it out."
Interview by Antoinette Turton
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