At 77 years young, Quincy Jones is less shy than ever about giving his unbridled opinion. Thank the music gods!
I was lucky enough to chat with the legendary, 27-time Grammy winning impresario — who gets feted by everyone from Amy Winehouse to T-Pain to Jennifer Hudson on the new tribute disc, Q: Soul Bossa Nostra (out now) — about some of his more recent contemporaries. And he didn't hold back: praising Ludacris, taking Kanye West down a few pegs, giving props to Lady Gaga, and putting down an upcoming Michael Jackson album of unreleased material.
UsMagazine.com: Congrats on the album!
Quincy Jones: Thank you very much, man! I'm very, very excited because it's something I've never been involved in before. I've always been a hands-on producer. They told me six years ago they wanted to do a tribute to me, and I said, 'I'm not going to do that to myself, that's not my style.' Then they said they wanted to open it up to do it with all these great people, and one by one they came on board and blew me away. It's about heart and passion.
Us: Did you pick the songs?
QJ: The artists did it. They decided on what they liked and what they wanted to do.
Us: The Mary J. Blige version of "Betcha Wouldn't Hurt Me" is hot!
QJ: Oh yeah, I've known her since she was a little girl. She's the best. I opened up my mind and just let everybody play.
Us: What was it like to hear Amy Winehouse sing "It's My Party" on this disc? She still sounds amazing, and it's great to see her back.
QJ: Absolutely right. She kept her word and did the song. Everybody gave everything they had. I'm so proud of my all young brothers and sisters.
Us: "Thriller" was done by T-Pain and Robin Thicke — in a different way, obviously.
QJ: Auto-tune! Well, we had to with T-Pain. I go back to 1963 when nobody knew what it was!
Us: Speaking of Michael Jackson, some of his old stuff is being released now as a new album. Thoughts?
QJ: I haven't had a chance to listen to it yet. Somebody called me up and asked me if it was Michael, and I said it sounds like Michael. But it's backed up by so many voices where I can't really dig down deep enough or I haven't really had time to dig deep enough to identify it. But no way it should be coming out. It should have all stayed in the vault.
QJ: It seems like everybody is trying to put everything out that they can with him. I don't understand it. It's all to make money. He wouldn't have wanted it to come out this way. They must just be trying to make as much money as they can. I don't know know why else they are doing it.
Us: Why? Because he was such a perfectionist?
QJ: Right. He wouldn't have wanted anything out there he didn't put his final touches on. It's a crazy time right now. We're also looking at the descent of the record business. It's a very curious time right now. I've been in the business 60 years, and I've never seen anything like this.
Us: Does it make you sad?
QJ: Yeah, it does. I think in 10 months to a year, the record industry is going to be in trouble. Big trouble. It's all 95 or 99% piracy.
Us: Is there anyone now that you think has the spark that Michael did?
QJ: Akon, Ludacris or Usher. A lot of them do, but the opportunities aren't there anymore. I'm worried about the young singers and songwriters in the business now. It really is a rough time. It doesn't mean a damn thing because they still steal everything. We're going to have to figure it out, man. I don't know what the answer is.
Us: How do you stay happy and positive?
QJ: I have six daughters from 17 to 57, and I have one son. My foundation is one of my biggest passions now too. We're working all over the world — Cambodia and Brazil, we helped out in Hurricane Katrina. Those are the secrets in life. Love, laugh, live, and give, and that's the way I live my life.
Us: Kanye West is similar to you in that he's the producer everybody wants to work with in the last decade….
QJ: How man? No way. Did he write for a symphony orchestra? Does he write for a jazz orchestra? Come on, man. He's just a rapper. There's no comparison. I'm not putting him down or making a judgement or anything, but we come from two different sides of the planet. I spent 28 years learning my first skill. I don't rap. It's not the same thing. A producer has to have some sort of skills that enable him to be a producer. It's totally different to know what to do with 16 woodwinds you know from piccolos down to bass clarinet. It's a whole different mindset. No comparison. None.
Us: What do you think of him?
QJ: I don't think about him much. He's a great rapper, but there are a lot of good rappers. I just did The View with Ludacris, who's one of my favorites. He's a beautiful human being and college educated. I joke with him and say, 'How did 'Move Bitch Get Out The Way' come out of you?' But I was raised around the Mafia when I was a kid in Chicago in the 30s. Chicago's rough. I'm from the streets, I know what's up!
Us: What do you think of Lady Gaga?
QJ: She's great. Some guy misquoted me in some article and said I don't listen to everybody — meaning her. I'm not listening to everybody, man. Everybody has their own thing, but it's show business. Gaga is like Madonna Jr. A lot of people follow Madonna. I don't, but I don't blame those that do. She's had a long career and done a lot. There are different strokes for different folks, man, and there is nothing right or wrong. It's what you like, you know. I'm against categories. If she can do it, do it. If she knows how to do it, just do it.