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Issue 1084

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Questlove: A Vision Quest

Questlove (?estlove) @bluesandsoul.com
Questlove (?estlove) @bluesandsoul.com The Roots @bluesandsoul.com The Roots @bluesandsoul.com The Roots at Red Bull's Sound Clash @bluesandsoul.com

Conscious. Creative. Humble. Iconic. Innovative. Inquisitive. Intelligent. Wise. Witty. A humanist. A born leader. Brothas and sistas, meet The Roots drummer/co-founder Ahmir âQuestloveâ Thompson.

Heâs that laid back stout dude that dons an Afro, the fist pick, and some mighty fresh kicks. Heâs a multi-talented conceptual artist: one who knew that his love of music and concern for humanity could take him to great heights. Blessed with a wealth of experiences and astute insights, Questlove lives and breathes inspiration. And heâs not afraid to share it. I was able to sit backstage with one of my absolute favorite musicians prior to the Nov. 14, 2010 Red Bull Soundclash concert in Atlanta. Follow me on this magical mystery tour â or should I say his views on politics, social activism, his talks with Jay-Z, the business of music, the culture of music, and of course â his love of music?

My generation is said to be in a crisis: especially when it comes to music. Granted Iâm only 28 years old now, but this is nothing new. It was one thing for generations before me to dismiss (but somehow radically embrace) jazz, the blues, rock-n-roll, and hip hop. Even growing up listening to any and all that I could for hours upon hours in my bedroom, my mother used to beg me to turn that shit down!!
Itâs another thing for the cynicism to still linger â from music journalists, cultural critics, social network postings, our parents, professors, everybody. There are no greats. No one with longevity. You donât play instruments. You have no real sense of history. Yâall donât care about the issues. Awww (followed by a quick hand wave), yâall ainât talkinâ âbout nothinâ! And yada yada ya. And letâs be honest; not too many of us cultural scribes and music lovers have had enough balls to challenge this nonsense. I, playing Devilâs Advocate, never believe the hype. Those close to me have always counted on me to be their musical encyclopedia. I was that kid recording songs off the radio and then writing the lyrics in my Trapper Keeper. Oh, trust â I know a lilâ something when it comes to Grammy Award winners, musicology, music theory and appreciation, the terminology, chord progressions, Billboard chart positions, album track listings, and appreciating the cover art! I can talk, but Questlove (nee: Ahmir Khalib Thompson), on the other hand, is one of this generationâs truest masters â a modern legend ahead of his time.

âThe old school was on it. Like thatâs the power of a tastemaker. Now, the gatekeepers â the people who control, um, radio, who control what you hear on television and what you see â theyâre now sayinâ âOK, this new artist is gonna be.â They determine who gets through the floodgater now, so theyâre kinda silencing the tastemaker. Um. Thatâs pretty much whatâs goinâ on. I think that people are really feelinâ that somewhat totalitarianism, the tyranny of-of-of that sorta oppressive feelinâ. I canât describe it, but itâs almost like a Communism war â well, not a Communist war â but a-a-a-a dictatorship rule in which one person or one corporation determines how many times you hear something. So I think people more or less are just tired of the fact that, you know hip hop, is now mainly a tool of survival. Before it was I think a creative, sorta art expression in which you wanted to. You know, when we came up and we were makinâ records, you know our first thought before anything was like, âYo man, when [Q-]Tip hears this shit or Rza hears this shit and you know or especially if this serves. Man, Dylan gonâ be mad as shit when he hears these joints; (higher octave) itâs gonâ fuck him up!â That was my whole thing, but now itâs like because itâs basically a tool of survival now. You know, like your deal is all that you have. If you depend on your record deal, thenâ¦youâre more or less thinkinâ about how not to get dropped off the label. And youâre thinkinâ of, âI gotta do whatâs popular in the marketplace, and I gotta proximate what the marketplace has called for.â And then, thatâs where it gets in trouble. So now like, you know, I think especially for black music because survival and just everyday life, you know, a lot of us are one check away from being messed up in the game. So you know thereâs really not too much risk taking when it comes to music like no oneâs gonna try and turn in the hip hop equivalent of Pet Sounds or anything kinda unique and forward to do that. But you know basically like you wonât find any current artists tryinâ to make their own version of '808 and Heartbreak' because they canât afford â they literally canât afford to take any missteps in their career you know, soâ¦â

I just knew Quest was amazing a long time ago. Check this out -- January 2000 â my junior year of high school; I was always begginâ to get a ride to the record shop every Tuesday to pick up the latest albums. I was the class music connoisseur, not quite a superlative in the yearbook, but everybody counted on me to see the CD jackets first and to always give my opinion on the music. I thought I was pretty damn cool; I actually took pride in it. Who would think that in just a few years, I would go from singing on Sunday mornings in my rural South Carolina Baptist churchâs gospel choir and puttinâ on Michael Jackson routines late at night for my momâs drunken company to sittinâ principal chair for the viola sectional in my schoolâs concert orchestra. Most of my friends, however, in my âhood were into the greasy, seasoned Southern fried funk from OutKast and the Dungeon Family. Everywhere else I turned was either the blingân-boucinâ New Orleans camps No Limit or Cash Money, Jay-Z and his Roc-a-Fella empire, or Wu-Tangâs chime-laden 36 Chamber music. I, on the other hand, was a funk and soul junkie at heart. In one hand at that time though was 'The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill' from the year before â I couldnât take it out of the disc changer. DâAngeloâs second album, 'Voodoo', was a BIG event â the album I anticipated the most. It was THE mesmerizing musical experience for me. It had gotten to where my mom would yell at me constantly âcause I literally played the disc every chance I got.

And with good reason, too! It wasnât until I was an undergrad at Johnson C. Smith University a few years later when I realized that cats were just as into 'Voodoo' as I was. It wasnât as extreme like some Deadhead cult, but it was powerful enough for us to blaze some trees and nod our heads. 'Voodoo' was like some pure uncut, concocted magical dust, and I was one of its biggest fiends, man. I was hooked on the albumâs sequencing, 79 minutes flat of raw funk-n-grooves, and all of the creative process folklore that Iâd read about. I was so jealous and longed to be there to see it (more than my pipe dream of being in Minneapolis to miraculously find Prince & the Revolution recording at Paisley Park): Electric Lady Studios being on Ft. Knox-type lockdown over the course of five yearâs worth of jam sessions. This was my idea of gettingâ a higher, no puns intended, education, and Iâd found my mentor. As I read thoroughly through 'Voodooâs' maroon and black liner notes and grainy thick black and white photographs, I saw the name, ?uestlove, appear too many times to mention. Producer. Drummer. Songwriter. The co-pilot along on this musical trip. I thought he was the answer to my prayers.

Iâve always said that a musical genius is blessed from birth. And Questlove, a meticulous prodigy, is no exception. For one, what else is there to expect from someone who is born (January 20, 1971), raised, and nourished out of a homebase like Philadelphia -- again, Iâm jealous â the foundation for some of the most remarkable talent, who Quest refers to as âThe Yodas:â i.e. Patti LaBelle, the late Phyllis Hyman and Billie Holiday, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the late Teddy Pendergrass and Tammi Terrell, Eve, Chubby Checker, Pearl Bailey, Ethel Waters, John Coltrane, Bunny Siegler, Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson The Intruders, The Delfonics, The Stylistics, The Trammps, Pink, Crystal Waters, Santogold, Hall & Oates, James Mtume, Grover Washington, Jr., Sun Ra, Schoolly D., Three Times Dope, RJD2, Solomon Burke, Frankie Beverly (of Maze), DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (sorry, Will Smith to you youngstas), Stanley Clarke, Boyz II Men (who coincidentally were Questâs classmates), Jill Scott, Bilal. Oh, you get it by now, donât you? Two, and Iâm not surprised by this at all, he has an impressive collection of vinyl; not bad for a former employee of Sam Goody â you remember that record store chain, donât you (70,000 units he possessed at last count)? Oh, and did I forget to mention also that Questâs father is Lee Andrews, the leader of 1950s doo-wop group Lee Andrews & The Hearts? That was three. Or that while most kids were learning how to ride bikes or being able to tell their times tables, Quest was on a quest â touring with his dad and mastering timekeeping at seven years old. Canât you see where Iâm goinâ with this so far? I hope so. âYou know, people always ask me, âWhy donât you hear stuff with quality?â I mean, I go to the Internet, so I donât depend on radio to feed me anything nutritious or-or-or any sort of subsistence I depend on. Not to say that all radio is like that. Thereâs a lot of college stations still goinâ strong: things like that. And not even sayinâ that Iâm against like commercial radio. I meanâ¦I like, you know, I mean I like Waka Flocka [Flame] like the next people, but I donât know if I necessarily wanna hear it 20 times a day. I just want variety. You know, I like Waka Flocka (door cracks). I also like Foreign Exchange. I like Led Zeppelin. I like a little Ke$ha. I like, you know, gimmeâ¦gimme a little bit of everything. Gimme some variety.â

Questlove is a prude â I mean a purist (clearing my throat). Itâs just not enough that heâs the self-proclaimed âyour favorite Twittererâs favorite music snob.â Quest makes it clear that he marches to his own beat: with a Yamaha Absolute Maple Nouveau, 24x18 Bass Drum, 14x14 Floor Tom, 14x35 (and 14x5.5) snare drums, a Yamaha Subkick, Zildijan (14â New Beat Hihats, 20â Oriental Crash of Doom, 24â K Constantinople Light Ride) cymbals, and Vic Firth 7a American Classic (or better yet his own signature) drumsticks. Believe it or not, he frequently changes the drum kits.

Okay, now quickly flashback to 1987 â the first day of school at the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts -- Questlove connects with his musical soulmate, Tariq âBlack Thoughtâ Trotter, a mastermind of social consciousness, precise lyricism, and flawless delivery. Both fellas were armed with a vision to set hip hop music to live instruments, so the two formed a band, The Square Roots: later condensing the name to The Roots. They rocked the street corners â later adding a then unknown keyboardist turned producer Scott Storch, Malik B. on vocals, and Josh âRubberbandâ Abrams (replaced by Leonard âHubâ Hubbard in 1994) on bass â and set out to take over the stage and eventually the world of music.

Of course there were band member changes along the way: The current lineup includes Kamal Gray, F. Knuckles, Captain Kirk Douglas, Owen Biddle, Damon âTuba Gooding, Jr.,â James Poyser, and Yasser Stephens. Previous members were Dice Raw, Scratch, Ben Kenney, Martin Luther, and Rahzel the Human Beatbox. And with over 20 years of evolution from the underground and into the limelight, the transitions have had no effect on the bandâs momentumâ¦at all.

Considered by many to be âthe worldâs greatest hip hop band,â The Roots successfully transcended musical boundaries in ways that previous bands could only dream of. Black Thought never fails to rock the mic while Quest brings the rimshots. The band is incredible on stage: blurring genres as they perform their own catalogue, rockinâ racially and ethnically mixed crowds, and covering Top 40 radio (and some of their personal favorite gems). The Roots have released a consistent stream of critically acclaimed albums â 'Organix' (1993); 'Do You Want More?!!??!' (1995); 'Illadelph Halflife' (1996); 'Things Fall Apart' (1999); 'Phrenology' (2002); 'The Tipping Point' (2004); 'Game Theory' (2006); 'Rising Down' (2008); 'How I Got Over' (2010); and their collaborative project with John Legend, 'Wake Up!' (2010) â, EPs â From the 'Ground Up' (1994) and 'The Legendary' (1999) and a live album, 'The Roots Come Alive' (1999). Of course, with being eluded by commercial radio, in some cases being virtually unknown until so many albums into the game, and throw in a few record label changes, The Roots stay true to themselves -- delivering their quality and infectious brand of organic, substance-laden live music. The band even hosts an annual day-long music festival in their hometown.

âUm. I mean, [Def Jam] justâ¦they promised to leave us alone. So our deal is that youâll let us make the albums that we wanna make. We promiseâ¦(Blackberry chirps; blows raspberry and chases with laughter)â¦Oh, Iâm sorry. Damn, my shit knows how to travel! Um. Nah. The deal that we have is basically, you know, umâ¦we get toâ¦you know. I want to end the misconception that you know weâre just all about makinâ art records and that type of thing. You know I mean, I would love nothing more in this world than for people to erase what we create. Like we slave over this stuff. Like when you hearâ¦for every song that you hear on the album, you definitely know that weâve spent somewhere between 60-120 painstaking days â I mean over every detail: over the quality of the hi-hat, the strings, over the arrangement, over the lyrics, the melody. Weâll write another one. Write another one. Go back and write another one. Go back and write another one. Jimmy [Iovine] âbout to hurl a chair at you, you know, that type of thing. But um, you getâ¦I think that if anything, if you give it a chance, you can hear it that the people make the product â our product that we care about and the way that we present it.â

So now, what happens when your band becomes the first hip hop group to perform at the Lincoln Center â um, the worldâs leading performing arts center in New York City? You play âHere I Comeâ every night on NBC and take over late night television. The Legendary Roots Crew (The 5th Dynasty, The Foundation â hell, pick one), beginning on Mar. 2, 2009, became the house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, now currently in its second season. Quest calls that his ânine-to-five job.â

âYou know, my thing is like basically, you know, The Roots â we can all hold ourselves high above water without havinâ to have a record deal. At this rate, havinâ a record deal and releasing records is basically just a small reminder to the public that weâre still here, but now that weâve kinda have late night television, you know, I mean Iâve just never been this type of person to like, uh, once you see my face itâs like, âI got a new job now, so you can keep your fuckinâ record deal.â You know, anything that exposes us to a new artist, Iâm wit it! But I learned a long time ago never ever to depend on the record deal as your sole means of survival or just your sole expression means. It just amazes me; you got artists today that just live for their record deal and nothing else. Like I think now the record deal, even for people that are successful, I mean weâre not dealinâ with music. Weâre dealinâ with the cult of personality. So with the cult of personality, you have you know, take Jay-Z for instance. I mean, heâs more of a business mogul on the Monopoly board. And it just so happens that one of his properties happens to be, âOK, he makes records, too!â Like, I donât see the Monopoly board as Jay-Zâs recording history. I kinda see like Mediterranean Ave. or New York Ave. as, âOK, he makes records as well âcause you know he also, you know, has, you know, stake in a basketball team. He has, you know, his record label, his management label. In New York alone, I can count at least 16 other small businesses that he has his hands in from restaurants to you know other properties and stuff like that. So, um, of course thatâs also like the most extreme example I could give âcause you know heâs Mega Man. But I mean you just basically have to supplement your recording career for something else. Most people do acting. Most people uh, you know, they find some other means to sorta supplement. You know, for people that just strictly make records and nothing else, I donât know. Thatâs sorta like livinâ in a straw house and knowinâ that a tsunami is cominâ in a week. You know. Good luck with that one.â

This is all too refreshing to music lovers like me. Questlove has a lot on his mind. To the average Joe, Quest will talk your head off. And boy was it an experience (or should I say a tedious task) rewinding and transcribing the audio interview. Damn! But every word spoken is some funny story or some articulate, insightful segue into how he feels about current events, politics, or other phases of his career â or careers rather. Always imaginative and uber thought provoking, Quest has the power of the pen. Iâm starting to wonder if he sleeps. Heâs brilliantly concocted musical enigmas in and out of the recording studio. Quest is an active participant in offspring production teams The Soulquarians, The Grand Negaz, The Randy Watson Experience, and The Grand Wizzards. Iâd consider him a fine scholar: one I wouldâve wished for during undergrad. Heâs written the foreward to the 2007 book, Check the Technique. He contributes to Esquireâs The Visiting Critic blog â earning the moniker âhip hopâs resident musicologist.â Adding to his three Grammy Awards and an NAACP Image Award, Questâs talents have earned him an Esky Award for âBest Scribe.â Oh, and look out for his childrenâs book, too, Mommy, Whatâs a Questlove?

âThe truth is basically 90 percent of my life is work-related. Three percent of my life personal, which I mean the real question is you know, âWhen am I gonna go to the altar finally? When am I gonna have kids? Arenât you gonna be 40 next month?â You knowâ¦you always say like, âOK well 27 now â then Iâll wait âtil I turn 30. Then, Iâll wait âtil I turn 33. OK, Iâll wait âtil Iâm 37, and now itâs like Iâm 40.â And now Iâm probably sayinâ 42 and push it. But I dunno. I think right now my lifeâ¦Iâm just totally devoted to workinâ and a lot of its just. Iâm not sayinâ based on the fear of losinâ it, but Iâll say that one thing Iâve never expectedâ¦in 1992 when we first started, I thought like 1999 was like far ahead. I thought that was gonna be some Jetson futuristic spaceship thing. I couldnât see 1999. Now, 1999 seems like itâs 1950 like so long ago so I never envisioned that, âOK, itâs 1994 when Do You Want More? came out â where you gonna be in 2010? I wouldâve just been like, âOh God. I guess weâll be done by then.â You know âcause most rap groups fall off after their third or forth record, and they stop recording. Um. So the fact that weâve been here for 17 years â now thatâs mind bogglinâ. The fact that we have 12 records out that are, you know, I feel if anything are our, at least, artistic achievements. I donât feel as though I phoned in anything from home or that Iâve you know cheated anybody in the public of anything that wasnât 100 percent, you know. Even though people have their favorite Roots period, I still feel as though with all 12 records, you at least know that hard work was put into it. You know what I mean? I mean, Iâm not the worldâs biggest arcade fire fan, but after seeinâ them last night, I totally respect what they do. So even if all 12 of those records arenât your favorite, then you at least know that we work hard so thatâs important to me. I just think that you know you only get one chance in life, and Iâve seen so many people. Like I have so many hilarious stories â cats who were like the Lord Jesus Christ back in â94, â95, â96 like doinâ the Martin hard, you know. Like one guy was like, âYâall got a record deal or somethinâ? You know, yâall want to give me yâallâs demo?â This was during like the Things Fall Apart period. (laughter) You know what I mean?

SHIT EVEN LAST NIGHT!?! (laughter) I was as the SNL afterparty, and a SNL acting veteran came up to me. He was a little inebriated, but he says, âYou know what? You look important.â I said, âHuh?â He was like, âI donât know who you are. You could be a regular person, but you kinda look important. You walk around like youâre important.â And I was like, âOK where is this goinâ?â But he literally didnât, you know, not tryinâ to explain likeâ¦and I said, âWell, you know, Iâm on the Fallon show: a drummer for this band called The Roots.â He said, âROOTS! ROOTS! Yo, we â when that came out, we all watched it. It was just great.â And thatâs when I smelled the alcohol. It was like, âOh! Thank youâ¦I enjoy your work, too.â I escaped, but you know itâs just likeâ¦I dunno if thereâs a finish line, or I donât imagine a finish line in the race. I just â I run and then you know when itâs time to stop, Iâll know when itâs time to stop, but I canât stop now.â

Questâs artistic curiosity is hands down what intrigues me the most about him. Heâs a visionary beyond his video game pastiche on NBA 2Kâ¦7-9. No really! When heâs not hittinâ Jay-Z up on Gmail to debate about music, count on him to continue working his magic on stage and on camera. Itâs true -- great minds think alike. He was Jayâs musical director for his monumental MTV Unplugged episode and for Jayâs rock doc and concert film, 2004âs Fade to Black. Quest has taken over Broadway! He was the associate producer for FELA!, a triple Tony Award-winning production paying homage to the famed Nigerian Afrobeat musician and activist. Keepinâ it in the family, he convinced Jay to join him as a producer: along with Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith. Quest says he wants every child and musician to go see it because they will get inspiration. And he has a lot to say about Dave Chappelle; heâs been the comedian and satiristâs musical director and made feature appearances on Chappelleâs Show and for his concert film, Block Party.

âThatâs something you really gotta know about like me and umâ¦me and Jay[-Z]. We have sorta these⦠these Malcolm and Martin debates; thatâs the only way I could call âem because like you always hear these Malcolm and Martin conversations that nothinâs ever documented. So you know, I know that years from now, like 50 years from now, if I still have my Gmail account, all my conversations that me and Jay-Z have had that could almost be like the most hilarious musical version of Malcolm and Martin â not even like a historical statue but just like my conversation. Weâre privy on everything. Iâm tryinâ to explain to him the difference between genius and maverick. And you know, Iâm explaininâ to him âcause he sees like, âYou know, thereâs the Quincy, Stevie, and Kanye you know and all of these things.â And Iâm like the difference between those guys is that I guess to me is the ability to think on another level than the average human being. But being a maverick is when geniuses can figure out a way not to ruin it because they donât know how to stay in flight. They gotta figure out a way to self-sabotage which is why all the people that youâre cravinâ for â the DâAngelos of the world, Lauryn Hills, Dave Chappelles of the world, the Zack de la Rossas of the world. Anybody that has not released nothinâ in 10 years, youâre wonderinâ like, âHow come they not make the right? Whatâs takinâ âem so long?â Like you know, I donât think that they know or if they would even characterize themselves as self-sabotaging. But itâs a subconscious fear that makes you psychosomatic or just make you ruin it or makes you not deliver product. So the fact that thereâs a group of people that have a history of genius and deliver that to me is you knowâ¦that was a very interesting exchange that we had about maverick and geniuses. So you knowâ¦â

Guess I could ramble on and on about album sales, but itâs pointless. And now since youâre probably syncing all kinds of crap on you iPod or iTunes, you probably wouldnât care anyway. Iâll tell you what though; Prince pulled him up on stage from the audience to perform with him. Heâs damn near one of my Messiahs at this point. Iâd even call him my Yoda. Just sayinâ!

And now back to his nucleus. His collaborations (whether heâs produced it or played drums on the track, point is heâs a genius) include Erykah Badu, Dilated Peoples, Roy Hargrove, Blackalicious, Common, N*E*R*D, Joshua Redman, Zap Mama, Fiona Apple, Christina Aguilera, John Mayer, Joss Stone, Hank Williams, Jr., Ben Harper, Led Zeppelinâs John Paul Jones, Al Green, Duffy, Evanescence, and Booker T (of the 60s band The MGs). Thereâs more cominâ Iâm sure, so only time with tell with Quest. I even heard him mention his meetings with Al Jarreau and Tom Jones. Then there were a couple of itching-to-get-this-outta-me vanity projects â his drumming on an album of jazz instrumentals, The Philadelphia Experiment, and him DJing a compilation set, Questlove Presentsâ¦Babies Making Babies. Quest be gettinâ it in!

You canât help but to expect the unexpected from a brilliant mind â especially one that seeks a constant challenge. Questlove, the one time top candidate for enrollment into New Yorkâs prestigious Julliard School of Music, knows how to change with the times. âYou know whatâs weird? I just got my iPad, so I probablyâ¦the books that I read the most which are â which might sound weird to people â I read a lot of reference books: lots of odd historic, reference books which I know is rather strange that thereâs not a you know I can name a bunch of bell hooks books for you. But right now, Iâm utterly obsessed with the company called AV Network. Itâs not â for some reason, they have the same title as the AV Network, which is of course you know otherwise known as Adult Video [Network], but itâs not that. The AV Network â they basically compile lots of the meaningless lists, and Iâm absolutely obsessed with. Like Iâm the guy that will continually count all the curse words on Straight Outta Compton just because thatâs the type of shit I do in my spare time. Like take a shit count. Take a âFâ count. Take a damn count. Take a nigga count. So right now just reference books â Guinness Book of World Recordsâ¦dictionaries even. You know what I mean? Like Iâm obsessed with the word of the day. The word for today is isthmus â I canât pronounce it â IS-ITHMUS. For some reason, my ISH becomes an F, but reference books because Iâm also obsessed with playinâ Scrabble. So I amâ¦you gotta start like Malcolm X did. He studied every word from aardvark all the way from A to Z, so reference books.â

Iâm quite a social media enthusiast: regularly updating my Facebook profile with great quotes to share with my 1,500+ friends or connecting with other passionate tastemakers on Linkedin. Since 1999, Quest has been the host of the soul music online community, okayplayer.com. I tried to add Quest on Facebook, but he already had too many friends! I pretty much abandoned my MySpace profile, but Quest hosts his blog, 'The ?uestosphere!!!!!!!!!!!!!!', on there. I follow Questâs streams of âTweets though, where Iâm one of the 1.4 million cats that follow his love of album interludes by Earth, Wind, and Fire, his personal playlists, streams of Parliament-Funkadelic albums, political commentaries, occurrences on the Fallon set, NBC Studiosâ bland cafeteria food, and his conversations with other performers. If he has downtime in the recording studio, you might catch him in the middle of one of his Skype chats with Amy Winehouse, who he says has an impeccable knowledge for jazz music. He, along with Amy, are in talks with Raphael Saadiq, Mos Def, and Salaam Remi to collaborate on an upcoming project.

âI got one word for you, and she says it like: âShe gotta get her visa shit together.â Ya know what I mean? Yeah, I mean, sheâ¦Umâ¦like more than anything, sheâs a jazz head. Like a real jazz like you know like between 1930s and 1950s like a walkinâ jazz trivia Smithsonian. So she pretty much wants to just do a collaboration album between meâ¦actually to tell the truth, it was me, Mos [Def], and Amy. And I believe how it happened was that a journalist from Rolling Stone happened to be in our dressing room doinâ a story on the Fallon show, and he happened to see me Skypinâ Amy. And I guess someone had told him, âYou know, theyâre tryinâ to do this project with Raphael Saadiq â dutta dutta duuh.â So thatâs how that rumour got out (laughter). But then Raphael was like, âOh! I hear Iâm part of a project.â I was like, âI dunno.â You know, itâs null and void as long as she canât come into the United States. I mean, we can have the ashes of Michael Jackson join us if we want, but it ainât gonna happen because she donât have her visa stuff straight. So you know like for all intensive purposes, the party members have all said yes. Now you know she has to get granted her visa to return to the United States so right now sheâs justâ¦umma see her Thanksgiving; me and John are gonna do some shows in Europe. So Iâm gonna chop it up with her âbout two or three days â see whatâs up. But sheâs itchinâ to do somethinâ. Itâs just none of us can go to her. Her and [Mark] Ronson are fightinâ. Salaam [Remi] is, you know, scorinâ movies and stuff. And I got my TV show. She just thinks like, âJust leave your TV show for three weeks and come over and hang out wit me.â Itâs like it doesnât work like that. I have responsibilities. (mocking) âFly into London for three weeks. Weâll make a record, and you can go back to your job.â Iâm like it doesnât work like that; I got a nine to five (laughter) â¦So you knowâ¦â The trendsetter even has his patented custom Nike Air Force One sneaker, appropriately named âThe Questo:â colored burgundy and lime green with a gold check, etched with his silhouette on the back of the shoe and on the tongue, and laced with red or gold shoestrings. Thereâs a second round of his custom sneaks coming this February.

Now fast forward ten years and eleven months after my 11th grade year, I finally get the chance to meet my âmentorâ (remember). Iâm backstage at Atlantaâs The Tabernacle, runninâ about ten minutes late from another interview with electronica band Shiny Toy Guns founders Jeremy Dawson and Chad Petree. âI learned that they do country better than us,â Petree tells me. âAnd thatâs weird.â Dawson also praised The Roots. âWe thought we had âem on that, and they played it and killed it,â he says. âThose guys justâ¦they play all the time. They play their instrument all the time. Itâs inspiring to see those guys get up there; it makes me want to get better at my instrument.â Quest was in the room adjacent to us. As I entered the aqua-painted room with some empty nickel bags on the floor, it all flashed before my eyes: my older sisterâs then boyfriend rollinâ up mad Phillie blunts to 'Do You Want More?' and 'Illadelph Halflife', my older cousin playinâ âWhat They Do and Respond/Reactâ maxi-CD single on repeat, Questâs impressive drum-and-bass cadences at the end of the Grammy-winning single âYou Got Me,â and the first time I read his published work -- a Prince tribute article in a Rolling Stone issue commemorating the greatest musicians of all-time. Quest was sittinâ relaxed on the tan sofaâs corner: comfortable in gray sweater, black jeans, and checkered button shirt. His fist pick was tucked in the front of his âFro; he frequently removes the pick and waves it every other tangent. His BlackBerry sits face down on his left thigh â periodically chirping once or twice.

He just takes a glance before he gets back on his reserved, soft-spoken rants. He poses for pictures. He hugs some kids. But I get a mouth full about Kanye Westâs apology to George Bush. Whew â but with good intent I must say! âIâm so upset about that. Well Iâm â I get where heâs cominâ from, but Iâm more concerned that Bush was more hurt about being called a âracistâ by a rapperâ¦or an artist [Iâm sorry Kanye; youâre an artist] than he was about people literally drowninâ under his slow watch. You know, if you wouldâve said, you know, my lowest point was the fact that my administration was slow to handle the New Orleans debacle. I wouldâve accepted that, but when he said you know my lowest point was when Kan-way West called me a racist, that just⦠(sigh) â¦that to me was like, âOK, I get it.â Itâs not even I think is like an unintentional thing with him â the aloofness thing. Itâs just another over the head hump, and I just think the lack of compassion from political figures to common everyday figures, you know, there needs to be a meeting at the 50-yard line. So I was kinda cryinâ when Iâd see it. I understand that he was tryinâ to appeal to him as a human being and that for Kanye â his whole thing is like wipinâ away the sins and havinâ a clean pallet and modesty thinkinâ that you know. Of course you donât want nobody thinkinâ that youâre an asshole or you know that type of thing, so I understand why Kanye did itâ¦but by no means do I feel as though Bush even the fact thatâ¦that was Bushâs mean grips. Really?â

It was good to hear that Quest was quite active on the political front: especially during Barack Obamaâs road to the White House.
âUm. Iâm really chagrined that it is how it is. Probably one of the biggest â this is how it ties to how John Legend and I got to make the 'Wake Up!' album. Both he and I were like doinâ heavy campaigning for Obama back in 2008. Actually on two levels â I mean him as John Legend, you know, thereâs power in his name, you know, he did a lot of concerts: a lot of fundraising events. When the Obama organization sorta asked us to partake of it. Um. I was a little skeptical because I thought that they were giving me way too much credit than what I deserve. Like âOK, you want me to just talk to these like 5,000 people at a job convention?â âYeah! Yeah! Your points and all that other stuff.â And I was like, âWait a minute! Like⦠(chuckles) â¦donât you need like Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie to talk to these people? They was like, âYeah, we got Questlove!â And everyoneâs like⦠(dry face with sparse and echoing clapping).

So I didnât want to put myself in that situation, so I told them. âCause really what I wanted to do was I really wanted to for all this talk of us being political, I really wanted to earn that title. So I told them at least for maybe like the first four or five months of that I started volunteering. Like I would want to do like the elbow grease aspect of this job. So I mean, they had me out there; I told them if itâs menial stuff, Iâm your guy. So I was doinâ stuff like, you know, I was on phones. I was grabbinâ sandwiches; Iâm wakinâ up at like four in the morninâ like flyinâ to California, whatever city I had to fly to. Knockinâ on doors, I mean, freakinâ some people out âcause like (lookinâ out the corner of his eye and a quick wave of his left hand) âNah thatâs not him.â Knockinâ on doors, you know when you have that thing on your door knob to let you know like âToday is Voting Dayâ and all that stuff â so doinâ like all this Super Tuesday primaries. Like I was that guy; I was like gettinâ boxes and goinâ to neighborhoods and just doinâ like menial stuff â drivinâ people to the polling places, you know talkinâ to block captains. âOK, is there anyone on your block thatâs like disabled or needs a lift to the polling places?â Like really doinâ grassroots stuff like that, and Iâll say that⦠um, you know, after four months they were kinda like âStop playinâ. You know, we really need you to exercise your quasi-celebrity power and really pull some people in; not just like just grabbinâ sandwiches and make potato chip runs for the volunteers. I was like, âOK. Cool.â Um. So then that started teaching me really toâ¦I learned the political process that way and what really had me shocked was even during the 2008 primaries was likeâ¦I would be on the phone [and I guess in my âphoneâ voice]. Iâm like really ambiguous where you couldnât tell who was talkinâ to you over the phone. And some of them people felt comfortable enoughâ¦was like, (in low voice) âWell between you and me, I donât trust him because he might turn the country around.â Havinâ no likeâ¦âcause I was an alias or whatever. And so that was the point I realized that even though he⦠(door squeaks loudly).

WOULD YOU PUT A STOP ON THE DOOR????? Itâs that squeakinâ shit thatâs gettinâ me. Sorry⦠(imitates squeaking).â¦so by the time I started doinâ phones and started callinâ up random people; them same people in middle America really feel comfortable enough to sorta reveal who they were and not knowinâ that there was a black person talkinâ on the other line. Um. Thatâs when I realized that, âOh God. Weâve so not advanced as I thought we were. So much for post-racial America. And umâ¦even in talkinâ on the phones, I learned that a lot of Americans do not know the political process. They think itâs like a hybridâ¦like basically why donât he take his magic wand (spwink!), and we can all get better education and health care? Thatâs our hierarchy; thatâs like a kingdom, you know, which thatâs not the process. And a lot of them donât understand that basically you know Obama even though he is the coach of the team, that he is not the â you know â thereâs a jury of people or a pool of people that he can suggest an idea, and they have to vote on it. And unanimously agree and things get gone that way and you know then some. So it really mess their minds up; they can never believe that , âOh, there might be a group of people whose sole purpose is to overturn any idea that he suggests to them even if its at the costs of the merits. And even people refuse to believe that yes, there are other people that will deny you health care just because he suggests it -- you know. If it comes from him, I cannot wait untilâ¦I want to see what happens with education. Like you know, itâs one thing to say â like you know â everyone doesnât need health care. I would like to see Republicans start denyinâ our children a proper education. Now thatâs where I really think shitâs gonna hit the fan. Iâm not even likeâ¦now it seems like voters have turned on him and what not, but I wanna see what happens when he starts gettinâ his education game together. What weâre doinâ is, I guess the day after we lost the House, Obama gathered about 50 of us on the phone just sortaâ¦you know I guess a pick me up pow-wow because a lot of us were really depressed at what this now means which could be you know a leaned up sorta term where you know basically if he brings up an idea, then theyâll shoot him down. If they bring up an idea, he vetoes it. He brings up an idea, theyâll shoot him down. I really think that America has to learnâ¦I wish he would put a coalition together that actually teaches Americans what the political process is so that if in 2012 we can do this again the right way, they can understand that midterm elections are just as important as the four-year elections. Soâ¦â

But the stage is Questâs home away from home. This Nov. 14 night, I experienced my third fix of The Roots on stage â thanks to a few of my close friends from Red Bull. As I sat in VIP about thirty minutes post-interviews, I was taken by the two separate stages â one with basic live instruments and the other with a slew of synthesizers and drum machines â and how the audience was sandwiched in between the platforms. Soundclash took two separate acts in diverging genres: entertaining and exchanging musical performances of each otherâs work and selected tracks. âAtlanta, I need yâall to be my partners in crime tonight,â Black Thought says to the audience.

So about 8:30 p.m., the crowd cheers when The Roots comes on the stage with the tuba blarinâ and some funky congas. I didnât expect anything less from their live show. My last experience with The Roots came at another Atlanta spot, The Velvet Room, in 2009 where they were curators, along with Common, for the four-city Hennessy Artistry series. I must admit â I had more shots and full cocktails that I could count, but it was cool to see Boyz II Men as their surprise guests. Four years before that, I saw The Roots for the first time at a small, extremely overcrowded dive bar in Charlotte; soul duo Floetry and Detroit artist Amp Fiddler were the opening acts. As to be expected, The Roots were precise, tight, and to quote James Brown âon the one.â During their cover of Jimi Hendrixâs âFire,â The Roots hit this extended slow rock sound only to transcend into an electrying bluesy jazz set. Somewhere else in the mix, Quest breaks out some percussion funk that recalls Santana with hints of dub, ska, and reggae rhythms. The band even introduced hip hop artist Yelawolf as a special guest. As an encore, The Roots played with Shiny Toy Guns on their rendition of The Impressionsâ âMove on Up.â As to be expected with Quest, there are always moments to remember and a moral to the story.
Words Christopher Daniel

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz

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