The Roots drummer and bandleader recently sat down for an intimate and revealing conversation.
?uestlove is arguably one of the most influential musicians in the world right now. Aside from his drumming, his bandleading for the 'Late Night With Jimmy Fallon' (soon to be 'The Tonight Show'), his DJing, his new book ('Mo' Meta Blues: The World According to ?uestlove'), his hyper-active Twitter account and more, he is also producing one of the hotly anticipated albums of the year (maybe), D'Angelo's follow-up to 'Voodoo,' which has been 11 years in the making.
Recently, ?uestlove stopped by Red Bull Music Academy in New York City for an intimate and interactive conversation, which you can see in its entirety above. Or -- and? -- you can see what we learned below.
1. ?uestlove's first homework assignment involved music
On his first day of school, ?uestlove's teacher assigned his class homework: to bring in their favorite 45 RPM record. His classmates brought in popular contemporary music, like 'Staying Alive,' the Bee Gees' hit single from the 'Saturday Night Fever' soundtrack.
?uestlove? He brought Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers' 1956 hit 'Why Do Fools Fall in Love?' A great song, but not as hip at the time as the Bee Gees. ?uestlove, however, was surprised that his classmates weren't familiar with the music he liked.
“I just thought everyone knew about 'Splish Splash' by Bobby Darin, and that type of stuff,” he says. “I was in for a rude awakening my first week of school.”
2. ?uestlove wishes he'd practiced drumming more when he was younger
After describing the '10,000 Hour Rule' from Malcolm Gladwell's book 'Outliers' ― namely that the key to success is to practice whatever it is you want to be good at for 10,000 hours ― ?uestlove admits he wishes he would've practiced more when he was younger.
“I can't stress enough to people that they have to practice, and be a master of their craft,” he advises. “I know that's kind of hard in today's society, with so many options, but I wish I would've practiced six hours a day.”
3. ?uestlove kept the Roots a secret from his father
Speaking of practice, ?uestlove's father, the musician Lee Andrews, constantly pushed ?uestlove to practice his drumming when he was a kid. “People always say 'Practice makes perfect,' but my dad would always say, 'No, perfect practice makes perfect,'” recalls ?uestlove.
His dad hoped he'd one day become a studio drummer. All those hours of “perfect practice” would eventually allow ?uestlove to take session gigs with artists like Luther Vandross or Anita Baker or whoever was hiring.
?uestlove had other plans, but he was hesitant to tell his father he started a rap group. When The Roots put out its first album, 'Organix' his dad didn't know about it. But he eventually found out when the band was working on its second album, 'Do You Want More?11??!'
?uestlove had to tell his father because the Roots got a record deal with DGC/Geffen. The old man wasn't thrilled at first, but now he's cool with it.
4. J Dilla changed ?uestlove's life
?uestlove met J Dilla at The Roots' first New York City show. The Pharcyde came to see them, and they brought along Dilla, who at the time was producing their album 'Labcabincalifornia.'
?uestlove admits he was unimpressed at first, but only because Dilla wasn't Q-Tip.
A few weeks later, the Roots were playing a show in North Carolina with Pharcyde. After The Roots' opening set, ?uestlove had to leave quickly in order to make it to an interview with a local college radio station. Just as he was pulling away, Pharcyde started playing their song 'Bullshit,' and ?uestlove was so blown away by the beat ― Dilla's famous dragging kick drum ― that he had to run back inside the venue to check it out.
“It was the most life-changing moment I ever had,” recalls ?uestlove. “It sounded like the kick drum was played by a drunk 3 year old. I was like, 'What the hell is that?' I had never heard someone not give a fuck. That to me was the most liberating moment.”
5. ?uestlove has at least one weakness
One of the many new projects ?uestlove is currently working on (he doesn't say which one it is) has required him to master what he claims to be his biggest weakness.
“One of the hardest things to ever do in music,” he says, “is to effectively write something simple that sticks. People can talk Stravinsky's 'Rites of Spring,' people can talk about 'On The Corner' by Miles Davis, or anything Rahsaan Roland Kirk did, or anything the M-Base jazz movement does ― people can talk that stuff into the ground, and that's almost easy to achieve. But how many people can effectively write [The Supremes'] 'You Can't Hurry Love?' That to me is one of the hardest things: to write very simple, effective, three minute pop songs. I'm losing sleep over it.”