I stumbled upon this old interview with the Roots mastermind Questlove. It was conducted in 2003 by journalist-turned-BET personality Touré for online magazine Believer. I don't know if any other bloggers linked this interview up besides Soulmind, but it's recommended reading. This piece features Q offering some insights on the Roots' recording process, why D'Angleo is so
damn fat overweight and Q's views on hip-hop. To keep score: "AT" is Ahmir Thompson (aka Questlove or ?uestlove) and "BLVR" is Touré (for Believer mag).
Some of the article's highlights include:
"That's dat crack music, nigga -- dat real black music, nigga":
BLVR: But when you say crack is partly responsible for hiphop, what exactly are you talking about? More money in the community in the pockets of young dealers? A higher level of determination in certain people because of the climate on the street? Great stories to tell?"Thought I was a juvenile stuck to the G-Code (Yeee-aauh)/ This aint a rap song, nigga this is my life/ And if the hood was a battlefield then I'd earn stripes (Yeee-aauh)":
AT: First of all, there's upstart money. Eazy-E wouldn't have developed Ruthless Records if it weren't for the crack game. So Dr. Dre would've just been a Prince clone. One of the greatest works of art, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back [by Public Enemy], would've never got made. Half the narratives of hiphop would've been erased, the street cred, the danger, so hiphop would've been more of a jazz thing with virtuoso rhyming, and it could've easily faded away.
BLVR: Crack makes the world of the street that much more tenuous and fast and dangerous and filled with money.
AT: Crack offered a lot of money to the inner-city youth who didn't go to college. Which enabled them to become businessmen. It also turned us into marksmen. It also turned us comatose. Let's not forget that people actually used the shit!
BLVR: Does black art need social strife in a way that white art does not?"How Does It Feel" (Titled):
AT: Well, black music is often used as a survival tool. It's not an expression of art for many people. It's not, Yo man, I can sing. It's, I need help, I need to survive, I need to make money; if I can't do this, my life is over. So black art needs extremes. We can't be halfway crooks. The social conditions have to be so drastic that it brings the creativity out of us.
BLVR: So, following your theory, the reason why much of black music got a little stale during the nineties, all obsessed with bling-bling, is because of [former President Bill Clinton].
AT: I mean, the Clinton days were a collective sigh of relief, but what were we celebrating? Remember when Chris Rock said we're celebrating O.J.'s victory, but where's my O.J. prize? What did we win? That's how I feel with Clinton becoming president. We were like, "Whew. One of our own finally made it." We really thought he was black. My vision of Clinton is him in Kentucky Fried Chicken, soppin his bread, eatin his greens. I was like, we are finally in the White House.
BLVR: Making music with D'Angelo is more than going to the studio and jamming?"I love it when you call me Big Poppa":
AT: It's so much more than that. It's a whole lifestyle.
BLVR: Because he's a genius? Because he's troubled?
AT: H's all of that; but more than that, he's amazingly insecure. I mean, everyone's insecure, but he's insecure to the level where I felt as though I had to lose myself and play cheerleader. Some nights on tour he'd look in the mirror and say, "I don't look like the video ["Untitled," which featured nothing but a chiseled, naked D'Angelo from the waist up.]" It was totally in his mind, on some Kate Moss shit. So, he'd say, "Lemme do 200 more stomach crunches." He'd literally hold the show up for half an hour just to do crunches. We would hold the show for an hour and a half if he didn’t feel mentally prepared or physically prepared. Some shows got cancelled because he didn’t feel physically prepared, but it was such a delusion.
BLVR: It was the trap women often fall into, thinking they're fat when they're not.
AT: Yes. In the world of karma, it was sweet poetic justice for any woman that’s ever been sexually harassed, that’s ever had to work twice as hard just to prove she could work like a man. Literally. When we started this Voodoo project, we were like, "Man, we're gonna give a gift to the world, and not on a pretentious level. We're gonna create something that’s totally our world, and we're gonna bring people to our world and they're gonna love it, and it’s gonna be art." But the first night of the Voodoo tour the "take-it-off" chants started not ten minutes into the show. This is a three-hour show. But the girls are like, "Take it off! Take it off!" That put too much pressure on him.
BLVR: To be the sex god.
AT: Yep. And by night four he was angry and resentful. He was like, "Is this what you want? Is this what you want?"
BLVR: He was being viewed as a sexual being and not as a genius.
AT: They didn't care about the art, they didn't care for the fact that Jeff Lee Johnson was doing the note-for-note "Crosstown Traffic" solo in --
BLVR: They wanted to see the abs, the bod.
AT: They wanted "Untitled." He hated every moment of that.
BLVR: Everyone wants what they don't have.
AT: He was like, "They don't understand. They don't get it. They just want me to take off my clothes." So every night for eight months it was how to solve this Rubik's cube in one minute, before the bomb detonates. Every night. And sometimes I failed.
BLVR: And the show did not go on.
AT: The show didn't go on.
BLVR: How many shows did you cancel?
AT: Maybe three weeks' worth. We threw away at least two weeks of Japan.
BLVR: That's unbelievable. What's going on with him now? Is he retired?
AT: He's recording. I heard he's got, like, four songs done. I know him, he'll stop at song twelve. But what he wants is to get fat. He doesn't want his braider braiding every nook and cranny of his hair. He doesn't wanna have to have ripples in his stomach. He doesn't want the pressure of being "Untitled" the video.
BLVR: Everyone in hip-hop has a list of their top five MCs of all time. What’s your list?Questlove, will release on Feb. 14 his second solo effort, Babies Making Babies, Vol. 2: The Misery Strikes, his follow-up to his original Babies Making Babies "Quiet Storm" compilation.
AT: Five is Posdnous [from De La Soul]. The most untrumpeted hero of lyricism. Four is KRS-One. Three is Biggie. Two is Melle Mel.
BLVR: Wow, you went way back with him.
AT: Well, you have to. Everyone is derivative of Melle Mel. Number one is Rakim. He's the Christopher Columbus. There are people more complex than he was, but him being first, he has to have it.