ANGELES ó Ahmir Thompson is best known as Questlove,
but beyond that itís hard to describe the guy simply.
Heís the drummer in the long-running hip-hop group the
Roots, who also serve as the house band on "Late
Night with Jimmy Fallon." Heís a producer whoís
overseen records by Al Green and DíAngelo; he DJs
regularly at parties in New York and elsewhere; he
helped bring "Fela!" to Broadway.
now heís written a book, "Moí Meta Blues"
(Grand Central Publishing: 282 pp., $26) with the
novelist and New Yorker editor Ben Greenman. In it
Questlove recounts his musical journey ó starting with
the years he put in as a kid with his fatherís touring
doo-wop outfit ó but digresses regularly with deep
(and deeply funny) analyses of the artists and records
that shaped him.
do you do when just listening to the music you love isnít
enough?" he asks. You think as hard about it as
Questlove does here.
Virtually every review of your book mentions what weíll
call the Prince Incident: you, Eddie Murphy and the
Purple One roller-skating in an empty rink outside
You could say the book had its beginnings in a post
started by (the rapper) Rhymefest and I on my website,
okayplayer.com. This was something you donít see every
day between two people in hip-hop: We were trying to see
who had the biggest "Curb Your Enthusiasm"
story ó something other than the normal celebrity
encounter. And by the time it got up to 450 posts (about
our unlikely meetings with famous people), someone took
all my responses and made a separate site of those. I
wasnít writing with the intention that blogs and
periodicals and book companies would come around. But
eventually thatís what happened.
You had demonstrated that you can write ó and that youíve
got stories to write about. And out of that came this
book that feels like both a memoir and a collection of
riffs on pop culture.
I didnít know whose shoes to fit in (as an author). I
guess itís assumed that I (would) take the position of
an artist, but half the time I feel more like a critic.
And not to mention that everything Iíve ever done is
the No. 2 position: I was DíAngeloís co-pilot for
"Voodoo." I created the Roots with (the
rapper) Tariq (Trotter, also known as Black Thought). Iím
the Paul Shaffer to Fallonís (David) Letterman. When
youíre the second banana it gets harder, because how
do you tell your story in first person, but without the
revisionist thing of omitting someone elseís voice?
In fact, you didnít omit him ó "Moí Meta
Blues" features lengthy asides from your manager,
Once I got to the fourth chapter, I was like, "I
need Rich." Heís always the angel-devil voice on
Itís a book as much about other peopleís music ó
and other peopleís lives ó as about your own. Youíll
talk about your complex relationship with your dad, then
swerve into a long thing on Diana Ross.
This couldíve been the worldís darkest story or it
couldíve been the worldís cheeriest story. And if
anything I think the book shows how much music was a
refuge for me.
Refuge or shield?
Right. I should send an apology note to all the
engineers Iíve abused doing marathon recording
sessions. The reason I had 19 hours to work on a
freaking drum fill was that regular life was just too
painful to deal with. But I had music, you know? This is
my dream, but thereís a price to pay for it. Iím the
only member of the Roots without wife or children,
because you canít be this devoted to music and have a
regular domestic life.
book is maybe me coming to terms with the fact that
within the next three years Iím going to have to say
goodbye to some aspect of this obsession. I canít keep
watching "Soul Train" six hours a day.