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The Roots Interview

Interview with The Roots Co-Founder ?uestlove


The Roots  © Def Jam

© Def Jam

In the unlikely event that you're not a religious follower of The Roots, you still have reason to appreciate ?uestlove, Black Thought, Hub, Kamal, Kirk, Knuckles, and even erstwhile members Scott Storch, Malik B, and Rahzel. Besides the novelty of propelling their hip-hop band idea to unfathomable heights, The Roots crew also helped elevate Jaguar Wright from a 7-Eleven attendant to a powerful crooner, Musiq from a local Pizza delivery guy to a soul star, Jill Scott from a retail clerk to a revered performer, through their famous jam sessions. Eve, Beanie Sigel, and Erykah Badu have all gained from their affiliation with The Roots. In this interview, ?uestlove points us towards hip-hop's new triumvirate, reveals a secret about the much-despised Phrenology, his regrets about The Tippin' Point, and Jay-Z's threat to 'kick them off' the label.

On every album, you always introduce us to some little-known artist, like you did with Jean Grae, Jill Scott and others. Who's the underdog on Game Theory?

My dice is on this group from L.A. known as J*Davey. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn't have the outlet to sign these three artists, which I consider to be the next Native Tongues:

1)Sa-Ra: Kanye got them now. They have a community of crazy like-minded artists. I consider Sa-Ra the Jungle Brother of the movement.

2)I consider Georgia Ann Muldrow the De La Soul of this crew. She just signed to Stones Throw Records. She plays every instrument known to man, and her drum programming game is crazy. I really hate to do the whole "oh yeah, she's good for a girl" thing, but, J Dilla himself would say "Yo, who did that for real?" As a musician, she's passed every test.

3)My favorite group, which is the A Tribe Called Quest of this crew, is J*Davey. I guess you can call them the ghetto Eurhythmics, it's a male-female duo comprised of Brook D'Leu and Jack Davey.

Is J*Davey featured on the album?

Yeah, but that's not even indicative of what they're all about. My thing is to take a risk with an unknown artist on every album.

Obviously, you guys have pushed the envelope left and right, what's left for The Roots to achieve?

There's a lot. I still got my list. I don't know if it's cool, but, I've been hearing things like "we think too much" from critics lately. It almost sounds backwards racist to me. I think people need to think more. There's a lot of things that we haven't done, like the 'Graceland' record. I'd love to go to another country. We're going to Brazil in November. We tried to do it in Cuba, however, uh, I forgot his name...oh yeah George Bush implemented a new law. So, there are only three ways you can go to Cuba now: immediate family can get you four passes a year, being a student, and this cultural exchange thing. Also, I want to do an acoustic record, but, I don't want to do it the unplugged way. I want to see if we can make a powerful hip-hop album without it being organic-sounding. I mean there's plenty of things that we have not done.

In a recent Scratch interview, you said something about Black Thought becoming 'MC-less' on the new album. What exactly does that mean?

You have to understand that Tariq [Black Thought] is the last MC of his kind, which sort of puts people in an uncomfortable position, because the standards have been changed. Tariq is studying under the school of battle rap, the Kanes and the KRS-Ones of the world. I'm not even saying that the stuff isn't timeless, but, it's just that that's not existent in the marketplace. People want characters. Jay-Z is the bad-guy-turned-good. You know what Lil' Jon's character is. You know what Busta Rhymes' is. You know Eminem is crazy. 50 Cent was a gangsta, you know what I mean. The market has been marginalized with more characters than MC's. There are some people that coincidentally happen to be excellent rappers. Jay-Z, for instance. Whenever we do shows together, I'm always fighting for him to do...like "Yo do this other verse, my favorite song," and he's like "No, that won't translate to the audience." At Madison Square Garden, he did a portion of the show which was like "I'm dedicating this one to the real MCs" and we only did two songs like that, and it was the only time the audience was like "yeah, you know, let me sit down for this one." Then, he turns around and winks at me like "I told you so."

Tariq knew that he couldn't rhyme too much about MCs and battle rap because that doesn't exist anymore. He wanted to make slow steps to rhyming less about his lyrical skills and more about his thought process and what he cares about. Phrenology was the first step towards that direction, and The Tipping Point was another step towards him not making braggadocios anymore. This album was probably Tariq's most personal. Like, I thought I could never get him to talk about the murder of his parents or any of that sh*t. Even in real life, there's just certain things you just don't talk about, you know, because he's that guarded of a person.
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