Finding your destiny is an age-old and universal theme. The trope is recycled in films, stories and scandals about royalty, usually under the premise of intergenerational conflict: The heir apparent is unable to create a sense of identity due to the impending role as national icon. Hip-hop culture is no different.
In 1995, Q-tip’s cousin Consequence became the fourth member of A Tribe Called Quest. His debut came with six tracks off Tribe’s 1996 album, Beats, Rhymes, and Life, including the hit “Stressed Out.” Though never forced into the role of torchbearer to the Tribe throne, Quence’s arrival to the group was a bittersweet collaboration and public relations move that didn’t quite live up to the earlier successes of the hall-of-fame dynasty.
But “Stressed Out” became more than a hit song to Consequence; it became the metaphorical reality of his young career. More than half a decade since his former group dismantled, and with the June release of his mixtape Take ’em to the Cleaners on Sure Shot, Consequence has re-emerged, looking to find less “stressed” times on his own.
At 15, Queensbridge native made his official debut with “The Chase Part 2,” the B-side to the “Award Tour” twelve-inch off the classic Midnight Marauders album. But, most remember Quence trading verses with Q-Tip and Phife in a call-and-response style off Tribe’s Beats, Rhymes, and Life. As somewhat of a rap prodigy, growing up in the gold chain and Afro-centric era and idolizing Slick Rick, Quence was soon dubbed the unofficial fourth member of A Tribe Called Quest. But the collaboration wasn’t always that easy. The relationship with Tribe shows how viscous bloodlines can end up being in the industry.
“From a business perspective, that’s an important factor you put into your bio,” he said. “If you’re (Q-Tip’s) cousin, and he’s a platinum artist two times over or whatever the case is, where’s the nepotism? Why isn’t he shoppin’ your shit? Why don’t you have another song with him? Ya’ll have a family feud?”
After his debut, Quence was busy trying to put his own album together and getting his own deal. But “industry politics” took precedence, and his relationship with Q-tip helped secure a sixth-man role to the multi-platinum Tribe. He compared it to another major-label offer at the time: “That’s one hell of a second prize. I mean, fuck it. I’m just gonna go head and join Tribe.”
But with the tension building within the group, and with Quence having to chew and swallow the beefs, his development was stunted. Back-to-back classics Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders (it’s an ongoing debate which one of the two is the best Tribe album ever) set expectations and a reputation that Beats, Rhymes, and Life just couldn’t live up to. The rest of the group wasn’t seeing eye to eye, and Consequence’s career soon got lost in the shuffle.
With the group disbanded and without the same bargaining power as Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Phife Dawg, Quence’s solo project, Hostile Takeover, never hit the stores. But he continued grindin’ in the cuts to develop and showcase his skills on the mixtape market, hosting The Cons Vol. 1: All Sales are Final and The Cons Vol.2: Make the Game Come to You, both in 2002. Soul-inspired producers 88 Keys and Kanye West lend credits on both. After meeting West through their mutual friend 88 Keys, their relationship in the studio has been nothing less than solar hot. Quence’s contributions to Dwele’s “Hold On” remix and Kanye’s “Spaceships” has raised more than a few eyebrows.
“Spaceships,” the wage labor anthem off Kanye West’s College Dropout, was one of Quence’s re-introductions to the public. The song puts on a modern-day twist on George Clinton’s spaceship, symbolizing freedom and transcendence. The themes on “Spaceships” are ironically reminiscent of Tribe’s “Stressed Out.” Consequence rhymes: “Well, easy come, easy go/ How that sayin’ goes/ No more broad service, cars and them TV shows/ I all had that snatched from me/ And all the faculties all turn their back on/ And didn’t want to hear a rap from me.”
Practically a decade since his hit with hip-hop royalty, going from award tours to obscurity, stress still seems to follow Quence. “I wish it (struggle as part of his music) wasn’t,” he said, laughing. “It is what it is; it’s just a part of who I am. It’s been a struggle. I just rap about what I go through: stressed out, spaceships, same thing — still broke in the hood.”
But new beginnings seem to be on the horizon. He’s been featured on West’s School Spirit Tour. Take ’em to the Cleaners finally allows Quence to show off his own personal talents and aesthetics. With Kanye producing more than half the tracks and collaborations with Common, 88 Keys, Little Brother and Talib Kweli, among others, several tracks have already become food for deejays and other mixtapes. The mixtape’s bonus track, “Turn Ya Self In,” has already been released on twelve-inch featuring soul-inspired rhythms by Baby Paul. He has a few pending projects lined up with hip-hop and R&B heavyweights, slated for release this summer.
Does Quence wonder how things might have been if he weren’t linked to the more turbulent slope of A Tribe Called Quest’s career? Sure he does. But does he regret it?
“Basically, with Beats, Rhymes, and Life, it was good, it was bitter sweet,” he said. “People heard me rhyme, and for the most part people liked it.
“Would I do it again? Yeah, I probably would have done it again,” he said, laughing.
Time has shown that Quence is a serious emcee, not just a mere footnote in the legacy of one of history’s greatest rap groups. No longer tied to associations and blood relations, Quence is hoping to hit space-high altitudes. His spaceship looks ready for takeoff.
See a review of Take ’em to the Cleaners.