interview with ?uestlove

interview with ?uestlove

You are known for your work with The Roots, but you also do a lot of music separately from the band. What part do you enjoy more?

Sleeping (laughs). I don’t know. At the end of the day I consider everything that I do in a sense work off of The Roots. I don’t separate the 2. the public may see it one way but to me its all the same. DJing is more of a personal passion. I’ve always loved records, the spotlight of people, recommending my favorite music and stuff. To me it’s a 4 to 5 hours opportunity to share music. I don’t just spin records just to spin them, I do it to tell a story. As of lately I’ve been doing the James Brown series and without even telling, people just say: “Oh, I get it. You’re playing all the Hip Hop music that James Brown inspired or was sampled for”. More times at the end of the night people will say “I didn’t even know it was James Brown. I thought it was just my favorite rap song.” The night not complete until a person comes up to me and says “I didn’t even know about that record.”

The band has gone through a lot of changes over the years. How would you define the present state of The Roots?

We are going through our next phase. I don’t know how many phases we have gone through. I feel like we’re reaching for a bigger scope or a bigger radar. I’d say, we were holding the Hip Hop torch very high but now I feel like we have to include all of music. We were all about preserving the classic Hip Hop. Now we are at a point where we just try to remind people of music. So our show’s been expanded. We’ve been doing Bob Dylan covers and James Brown. We’re just covering more. Like the old ‘this is Doug E. Fresh or Slick Rick or this is Wu Tang Clan’, we are trying to expand the scope of music. This is just Hip Hop.

Game Theory was a darker album with less commercial success. Were you happy with the album yourself?

No album ever comes out unless we are personally happy with it. That’s the thing, because of the standard forged, as of late people don’t even know that they too used to drink the Kool-Aid. They see a success or failure based on how it’s sold. For the Roots, there is no album like Game Theory. Because Hip Hop is always seen as a tool for dance music, for escapeism, the idea of a Hip Hop artist doing a [different] album, that’s not danceable, is seen as a major risk. Because of all the sales declines and the onslaught of downloading I kind of expected our record to be in a 200,000-300,000 category. People have been very responsive thou and that is important.

The Roots has always made less commercial music. Have you felt the pressure to make music a different way after joining Def Jam?

No. if anything we’ve made our most inaccessible record with DefJam. The fact that there were happy with it, that we just made a Roots album, it’s a [great] thing. Because DefJam was a label associated with art and impact, especially for its first 6,7,8,9, years, DefJam signed us because of the integrity and the passion that we hold. Both parties were happy. Our album wound up in the top 5 of the year list and I think that was the plan.

What is your experience like at Def Jam?

It’s like because of the trouble-minded vision of the music industry the system of creating an album, servicing it to radio and video being the only channels of promotion, in this day and age it is rather foolish, since the internet gives us more information that we’ve ever had in our before 1996. The structure is sort of falling down. The Roots are a group that exists outside the system of radio and video. If anything, our album reminded people that we still do shows. People do shows to promote their albums, we do our albums to promote our shows.

Is the band working on a new album now?

Yes we are. We are in the middle of it, going for the October release. I would prefer a February release, but just the way that it is, DefJam is expecting us to turn the album in by August. They’ve been supportive all along. Whether or not we fit into the scope of what is defined as current Hip Hop, remains to be seen. I grew up in the classic Hip Hop generation. My generation is between 1982 and 1995, where gazillions of classics were released. All of us are now 30 and 40 years old. We are not the same 13, 14 or 20 years old that we were back in the day, so as we are all becoming of age, I believe that there is an audience of classic occult professionals that still like the classic music. It’s just that we have to be [aware] of such a thing. It’s cool for a teenager in the 70’s to like Bay City Rollers and others and next thing they mature and listen to Bruce Springsteen as an adult or growing up. That’s where we are trying to go. Following that U2 route. U2 started as young men and now they are 40 and 50 and they grew up with their audience. There is no precedent for that in Hip Hop because Hip Hop careers are suppose to end after 5 years. Meanwhile our world is near 15. We’re definitely traveling a road not navigated before.

As far as your DJing career. What’s going on with your Babies Making Babies series?

I need to see what’s up with the company, Barely Breaking Even. They definitely live up to their name, Barely Breaking Even. In order to release that record we need to license songs and such, but I will come out with the 3rd compilation, because people are very happy with the series. I’m probably gonna take it to the fall.

Do you feel that your creativity is expressed differently when you DJ?

That way you can tell, for me it’s a thing of getting away with murder. It’s playing anything. Just last week I got away with playing nothing but TV themes. I read a lot about the life of Larry Lamont. He had such a hold on his audience, that he could play anything. It takes a very rare individual to pull that stunt off. I know that as “?ueslove” there’s certain liberties that I have that your local DJ doesn’t have. So I try to take advantage of it as much as I can. The fact that I was bold enough to start playing TV themes… that’s just wow! I actually got more adoration and more applause for playing the themes of Laverne & Shirley than playing a song by the Neptunes.

What are your thoughts overall on the present decline in the popularity of Hip Hop music?

It is what it is. You just have to look at things as a cycle. I kind of look at development of Jazz and I see where Hip Hop is going. Jazz was the same culture that was a hard sell on everyday society and was thought to be the devil’s music. The government was against it just like Hip Hop. Jazz had its own style, its own photography, its own music, just like Hip Hop. People would try to expand the limits of jazz and go to other areas. Some people support it, some cried ‘foul’, just like Hip Hop. Jazz became a part of this society and it was no longer your music, it became your parents’ music. Some artists were able to go Platinum off of jazz, it became a generational thing. Look at Stanley Crouch. He hates Miles’ Alleging Theory. And he is so-called ‘expert on modern jazz’. We got people in Hip Hop who won’t accept any other genres of music. They argue for it with a passion. Hip Hop makes people passionate. Whether the passion is a distain or a pain for the culture, the fact that it evokes passion means that there is life to it.

As far as old school music, do you feel there is a place for it now or is the average consumer just concerned with club bangers?

That’s actually a good question. I never liked the idea of Hip Hop being such a disposable culture. For me unfortunately more than ever people’s quest for knowledge is becoming less and less. It becomes a problem when you let people decide for you. See, Hip Hop started as a sub-culture, because it was a synthesis of the modern culture, in this case 1977. not being able to do things like socializing with the upper echelon, closer to Manhattan, it created its own culture. It wound up starting a sub-culture. Having their own parties in South Bronx and their own music and their own soundtrack and their own dancing. Then slowly but surely it becomes a part of the everyday society. I just see it as a modern day progression. We are now in status quo. I’m kind of curious to see how culturally pompous it will be. I thought Hip Hop will be the last pure expression of a generation. Its all about being resilient thou, so…