Quincy Jones had spent years recruiting the biggest names in hip-hop and soul (Mary J. Blige, Ludacris, John Legend, Akon, Usher, Robin Thicke) to re-record his classic songs for the tribute LP Soul Bossa Nostra (out November 9th) when he had a chance encounter with Amy Winehouse at Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday party. “She’s a smart little girl,” Jones tells Rolling Stone. “She knew all the records I made with Dinah Washington all those years ago. I asked her if she would contribute a song to the album. I asked her first to do [Lesley Gore’s]‘You Don’t Owe Me,’ and she said she wanted to do ‘It’s My Party.’” Here Jones talks about the new disc, the origin of the phrase “hip hop” and the violence he suffered growing up in Chicago.
What does Amy’s version of the song sound like?
It sounds like Amy. What can I say, man? Nobody sounds like her. She’s been going through a lot of stuff, but she came on through, man. Everybody was saying “You’ll never get her” and all that stuff. “Blah blah blah…” You know how the press is today — it’s lethal, with [all the] haters and negative shit. But she and Mark came on in and they did it. She has a great voice. She’s from another planet.
I imagine that Jennifer Hudson’s version of “You Put a Move On My Heart” sounds amazing too.
Oh, absolutely. I called her to give her my condolences about her family. I’m from Chicago, and I just could feel that pain since she lost her mother, nephew and brother. That’s some heavy stuff. I had my own problems [in Chicago]. I got a switchblade through my hand — they nailed me to a fence when I was seven years old. I was on the wrong block. Ice pick in the head, so shit … I know Chicago, man.
Jennifer said, “I need to be on the album.” I said, “Jennifer, there’s no way in the world I would bug you about something like that.” She said, “Quincy, you don’t understand — I need to be on that album.’ She just tore “You Put A Move On My Heart” up.
You got a pretty impressive line-up on “Secret Garden”: Usher, Robin Thicke, LL Cool J, Tyrese, Tevin Campbell …
It’s incredible man. Everybody’s been so great. It’s really love, you know. We gotta figure out a way to fix this business, though. The way it looks now, in ten months or a year we are not gonna have record companies. That’s the way it looks. With piracy these days, you can’t win. People have passion for music, but they don’t wanna pay! Young people don’t know music was ever paid for. Did you know that digital information started in 3500 BC in Egypt?
No. That’s amazing.
Yep, it was 3500 BC in Egypt. That’s the cradle of civilization, anyway. Today a permutation of 1’s and 0’s is still the secret of IT. It’s amazing, man.
You were into hip-hop from day one, right? A lot of your peers took some time to come around to it.
I had no problem with hip-hop. I could see shit coming, man, twenty miles away. I’ve been at this sixty years. I go all the way back to the Last Poets and Watt Prophets and Gil Scott-Heron. I could see it coming then. Maybe you can tell me this. There was a record back in the sixties that went “A hip hop, a hippity-hop.” I’m talking years before the Sugarhill Gang. This is a rock and roll record that came out before anybody mentioned hip hop, but I think that’s where the name comes from. I remember that I was in my New York office at 57th and 5th and I heard that record all the time. It was coming out at the end of the doo-wop and the rhythm and blues period, before they went into folk. We had Peter, Paul and Mary and all these people on Mercury. Then Dylan came along. But just before that there was a record that had “A hip-hop, a hippity-hop,” and I’m gonna find that sucka again. If you hear about it, let me know. ‘Cause I’m really trying to find it. That’s the origin of hip hop and a lot of people try to take credit for [hip hop].
I’ve been hearing lots of rumors that unreleased Michael Jackson music is coming out later this year. Do you know anything about that?
No. I don’t know what they’re talking about putting out. T-Pain does “P.Y.T.” on this album, though.
Do you think they should be putting out unreleased music?
I’d have to hear [the songs] first. I can’t comment on them ‘cause I don’t know what they are planning on doing. There are always lots of songs left over. To get nine songs on Thriller we had to look at 800. To be honest, I then had to decide which four songs were the weakest. I then took those out and added in “Lady In My Life,” “P.Y.T,” “Human Nature” and “Beat It.” It turned the album upside down, man.
When you were making Thriller, did you ever think it would be as massive as it was?
Nobody knew that. Everybody who says [they knew] are lying, man. The best thing to do is to make a record that gives you goose bumps. That is all I know to do. Focus groups and surveys and all that shit … I don’t believe in that shit.
I talked to Michael in London while he was selling all those [“This is It”] concert tickets. He sold 50 concerts out and could have done 20 more. He was going to bring the kids in one day, and I had a meeting that night, so [we said] let’s just do it in Los Angeles. That was the last time I ever talked to him. Everywhere I go, from to Shanghai to Ghana to Beijing — hell, even to Abudabi, Dubai, Cairo, Monte Carlo or Rio — you will hear Michael Jackson. I feel very blessed to have worked with him.