Sunday, January 3, 2010


A couple of years ago when I was working at VH1, I had an interview with Questlove, drummer of The Roots, planned.  It was scheduled to be 15 minutes. We started talking about music and politics and next thing I knew, an hour and change had gone by. He's an artist who I could talk to for a long time, and more to the point, he's a guy who will talk for a long time if he's interested, without worrying about what his publicists or record label wants. 

Of course The Roots is his main gig - and I can't write about Quest without mentioning Black Thought, the group's MC and one of the finest in the game. Some have said that while Thought is great on the mic, he just doesn't have the charisma of a bigger star (or of Questlove). I would say that he just isn't interested in promoting her persona and doing a million interviews.  It's unfortunate for The Roots, with a more popular MC, they may have a bigger following. Then again, they're doing really well - Quest told me he was studying Phish - to figure out how to be a huge touring act without having to worry about hit singles (since hip-hop radio has never been much of a friend to The Roots, although they've backed up some very radio-friendly artists, including Eminem and Jay-Z).

Some people would argue that the '90s were The Roots' best decade, and they definitely had some great music from '90-'99, but I prefer the '00s. 2002's Phrenology was excellent (the rock-crossover-without-being-rap-metal "The Seed 2.0" (featuring Cody ChesnuTT) was one that Mick Jagger would have paid a milli for, but there were lots of other great tracks on the album. 2004's The Tipping Point is probably my favorite Roots album, I love "Star" (their remix of Sly & The Family Stone's "Everybody Is A Star"), "I Don't Care," "Don't Say Nuthin'," "Guns Are Drawn," "Stay Cool" and "Somebody's Gotta Do It" are classics, and better than most of what is dominating "Best of the Decade" charts. I also loved 2006's Game Theory. 2008's Rising Down, not so much, but it still had some great moments like "I Will Not Apologize." I can't wait to hear the next one, How I Got Over.   I think it is phenomonal that they got the gig as the band on Jimmy Fallon's TV show. From backing Black Star to Christopher Cross, they are awesome no matter who they play with.

So why am I calling out just Questlove instead of the whole group? Because Quest also produced D'Angelo's 2000 classic Voodoo and played drums on the album and in the touring band. That was one of the most ambitious R&B albums of the decade and even hit #1, but seems a bit overlooked these days, mainly because D'Angelo has been a bit M.I.A.  He also produced Common's Like Water For Chocolate (also from 2000), which included "The Light" and "6th Sense," and the followup, the more amitious (and more difficult) 2002 release, The Electric Circus. He also played drums on Fiona Apple's Extrodinary Machine, as well as on Joss Stone's cover of The White Stripes ' "Fell In Love With A Boy" (which he also did the arrangements for). And of course, he was the producer of one of my favorite albums of 2008, Al Green's Lay It Down. I definitely hope they work together again, and I'd love to see Quest work with other soul music legends. What up Stevie Wonder!
I know the guy is busy these days with the Fallon show, The Roots also do NYC shows and they have the album, but the more stuff Questlove produces or is involved with, the better shape music is in.

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