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DMV Rapper Q Da Fool Is Reclaiming His Career With ‘Art of Ambition’

This spring, Largo, Maryland, rapper Q Da Fool was prepping his comeback album after a two-year prison stint. But after only two months home, he was arrested for “promoting violence” after dropping a song and going on Instagram Live. He says his probation officer arrested him and told him they were incarcerating him for his own safety. It’s unclear what the exact charge was, but Q served another two months in jail before coming home again and deciding to overhaul his creative approach into what’s become Art of Ambition, released last week, which, he says, reflects his hunger: “My drive and ambition to constantly keep working through the ups and the downs.”

When some artists talk about ups and downs, the latter may refer to label woes or tepid critical reception, but Q’s circumstance is more intense. The 28-year-old is a DMV rap pioneer who has as good a chance as any of his generational peers to become a bona fide star. But he’s also facing the burden of being on five-years’ probation, with a seven-year suspended sentence hanging over his head stemming from unspecified 2021 charges. 

Art of Ambition is the springboard of a new chapter and his next best chance to orient his career on the trajectory it was on in 2018 when he signed with Roc Nation, just a year after releasing 100 Round Goon, a well-regarded album that was the fulcrum of what Washington Post called “The Greatest Year in DMV Rap History.” While artists like IDK and Rico Nasty have expanded into the national consciousness, too many others from the area have either been killed or, like Q, have had jail sentences derail their journeys. Q is trying to get back on track, though he doesn’t have grandiose aspirations. 

“You’d get lost in the sauce trying to get to a spot. I just want to be comfortable,” he says. “When my supporters [are] happy, I’m happy. Of course, I always want to be number one, but time will tell. As long as I’m putting out good music and grinding, I can’t complain.” 

Q grew up in Largo, which is just minutes from the nation’s capital. For a long time, it was mostly known as the home of the Washington Commanders’ FedEx Field. But DMV radio host, DJ, and media personality Little Bacon Bear notes that Q helped give Prince Geoge’s County a cultural identity as a member of the rap group Pakk Boyz alongside fellow local hero Shabazz PBG. “He made Maryland a key component to all of the DMV rap that we had going on,” Bacon Bear says. “He was holding it together. When I would go to middle schools, elementary schools, high schools, and run into kids, they’d be like, ‘Do you know Q Da Fool? Do you know Shabazz? Do you know Big Flock?’”

Q dropped his debut project, 2015’s Trap Fever, after beating an attempted murder charge. He would drop four more projects that same year. “Some people think when they get a case they should chill out. My shit was completely opposite,” he told Vice’s Lawrence Burney in 2018. He released two more projects in 2016, and five in 2017, including the breakout 100 Round Goon. On songs like “Catch Up,” he paints a portrait of the varying connections that shape him over spooky keys: “I’m related to some crackheads, I’m related to some dope fiends/I’m related to some straight killers, I’m related to some drug kings.” After 100 Round Goon came his “BodyGuard” collaboration with Gucci Mane, his Roc Nation signing in early 2018, and collaboration projects with Zaytoven (100 Keys) and Kenny Beats (Bad Influence). 

After a steady stream of projects to start the 2020s, Q was arrested and sentenced to a 10-year prison sentence (with seven years suspended). He hasn’t given many details on what happened, telling media outlet Say Cheese in December 2021 that “I ain’t have nothin’ on me, and they just charged me with a bunch of shit.” He served 18 months, what he calls a “depressing” experience that lingered with him even after coming home.  

“In jail, when you brush your teeth, you don’t spit in the sink, you spit in the toilet. So the first day I came home, brushing my teeth, I’m just naturally spitting in the toilet. It just be some institutionalized shit,” he says. “You got to break out of them ways, and how you think, and how you move. That shit ain’t no place for no human being. You damn near an animal in the joint. You’re locked up in the cell 20 hours of the day. Ever since Covid, every prison [in Maryland] is locked down 20 hours out of the day. It’s not like you just walking around. The only people walking around are at camps.”

He came home to house arrest in early 2023, ready to hit the ground running as an artist (though no longer signed to Roc Nation). But then the carceral state pounced again. In July, after his Instagram account posted a story stating “#FreeQ they sent him back to prison because they accused him of promoting violence. He had just released “GQ,” a song perceived by many to contain shots at YouTuber and DC rapper Ant Glizzy. For Q’s part, he denies the song was a diss, saying, “I don’t know why they took it like that. It was just a song. I’m just speaking what’s going on.” Regardless of if “GQ” was a diss song or not, it wasn’t a criminal offense. 

Q says his probation officer called him shortly after “GQ’s” release and told him to come into their office the next day, where they placed him in handcuffs and, as he says, told him, “You’re going back to prison” for “inciting violence.” He was also told that someone had posted an address in the comment section of one of his Instagram Lives and that he had to finish his sentence because the probation office was “responsible” if something happened to him. Q says he resolved to take the two remaining months of his sentence without a fight, noting that he’d be off his ankle monitor and house arrest when he returned home. 

A 2020 Justice Policy Institute study revealed that Maryland had the highest incarceration rate in the nation of Black men age 18 to 24, and the proportionately highest percentage of Black people incarcerated in the country. Prosecutors’ use of artists’ lyrics against them appears to be making matters worse. The same year as Q’s conviction in 2021, Taylor Montague was sentenced to 50 years in a murder case where a Maryland appeals court determined that lyrics he rhymed over a jailhouse phone were admissible as evidence. In Georgia, prosecutors in the YSL RICO case are referencing rapper Young Thug’s lyrics to attempt to portray him as a gang leader. Artists all over the country are having to consider whether their lyrics could ever be used against them in a court of law. But Q says he’s not letting the circumstance change his bars. 

“I feel like if they was to mess with me now, I’m gettin’ Johnnie Cochran because I ain’t do nothing,” Q half-jokes. “I’m making music, so y’all can’t mess with me like that. You can’t lock somebody up off of Instagram, but I was on home detention, so I was still property of the state.” He adds, “[Rap is] supposed to be art. I feel like people who did dumb stuff and rapped about it made it worse for people who are just making music. [There are] people who did stupid stuff and put it into songs, but you can’t put that on everybody.”

Q tells me about people he knows who’ve been incarcerated, including his brother, who received a 25-year sentence (with 15 years suspended) on his first adult charge. The odds are stacked against them in a country where warehousing people is big business. DMV radio personality Lil Bacon Bear says that Q is one of many DMV artists who’s had their career hindered by the criminal-justice system. “We had 20 to 25 of our biggest artists in the area either dead or in jail right now,” she says. “We’re dealing with those types of issues, and the music now has to come secondary to what’s going on in your life.” 

For the next five years, Q is on probation. Any violation could trigger the remaining seven years of the 2021 conviction. “I know they watching me, and they trying to go tit-for-tat with me, so I just got to be smart what I do, what I say,” he says. Q previously hit the ground running into the rap game after his 2015 jail stint, and he’s looking to recapture that dynamic with Art of Ambition, a project where, he says, he sought to try new things sonically and show off his lyricism. Q says his legal predicament made him overhaul the project’s thematic grounding.

“When I got locked back up [in July], It just made me be in a whole different mood,” he recalls. “[I knew] I got to go harder than I was just doin’ when I was out there. I knew I was going to come home and make some hard music. The content has more substance to it. [I] speak more about my life and let them feel my pain a little bit more, instead of just rocking. It’s a story in every song, though; you just got to listen. Even when I’m talking about jail, the streets, females, it’s a story in every song.”


On “Bad to the Bone,” he flows over producer E Major’s flip of Creative Source’s “I Just Can’t See Myself Without You” sample made famous on Freeway’s “What We Do.” (Amazingly, Q says he hadn’t heard the Roc-a-Fella classic at the time of our conversation.) “Flossin” is another E Major production that sounds more inspired by modern Detroit or California than Largo. On “Rich Droppaz,” Q’s Rich Shooters label and OT7 Quanny’s Droppaz collide over a moody beat, taking turns with memorable boasts like Q rhyming “bald-head shooter got a jumper like Sam Cassell.” 

Q sounds focused, noting that he’s still intent on building up his Rich Shooters label while pursuing his own career, hoping to empower the people around him. “You got to be a businessman around me,” he says. “Everybody around me got a position. There’s not nobody just sitting around. Everybody got a title.” Some of those people have the title of skater; Q tells me he recently started a skate team after a video of him showing off his solid skills at a skate park went viral. When I ask what his biggest goals are for the near future, he has a simple answer: “Have a Number One album, be trending. Raise my kids, and take a big trip with my family. Just family and music.” 

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