Questlove, the drummer and co-frontman for the Roots, is the subject of a long, engaging profile in The New Yorker magazine this week. The story begins with Questlove waiting for D'Angelo at the Bonnaroo festival in Nashville, and it is through the process of waiting for the R&B singer, practicing and then performing that we learn about Questlove's background, exhaustive music education and intense attention to detail.
"You have to bear in mind that he's one of the smartest motherfuckers on the planet. His musical knowledge, for all practical purposes, is limitless," the critic Robert Christgua is quoted as saying.
Born Ahmir Khalib Thompson, Questlove was born to musical parents. His father was a legendary doo-wop singer in the 1950s. His mother was a print model, singer and dancer. When Questlove was a boy, his parents created a night-club act. He played Radio City Music Hall in New York City for the first time when he was 12.
"All of a sudden, I have this thug-ass art student who'll only let me sit next to him in the cafeteria if I do break beats for him." -- Questlove
One of the more amusing anecdotes comes from Questlove's years attending the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. During Questlove's years there, the school was stacked with talent.
"The first month in high school, the principal comes to English class and calls [organist Joey DeFrancesco] out of the room," he says. "We instantly think, Oh, no -- you suspended! But when he comes back, Joey's like, 'Kenny Kirkland's acting up, and Miles is bringing me on tour for three months.' I was like, 'Miles who?' and they were like, 'Duh! Miles Davis!'"
Because of Questlove's encyclopedic knowledge of music -- of all music -- he became a sort of novelty act for the other kids, including Tariq Trotter, who is now the emcee for the Roots.
"All of a sudden, I have this thug-ass art student who'll only let me sit next to him in the cafeteria if I do break beats for him," Questlove says. The other students called him at home. "Do 'Busy Bee'!" "Do 'Top Billin'!" Then one day, Tariq said to Questlove, "You, me -- we're a group."
Questlove explains how hip-hop saved his life by making sense of all the music he had learned previously and synthesizing it all. It "swallowed black music whole," says The New Yorker writer Burkhard Bilger. "It subsumed every part of its history, then spat it out in samples and rhythms."
"It made me more politically aware," says Questlove.
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