BACK TO THE ROOTS (TOUCH Magazine) (2005)
Founder, producer and drummer for The Roots, ?uestlove is a legend in hip hop history. His CV reads like a who’s who of modern urban music, and the man has experienced first hand the many changes and developments the genre has experienced to date. ‘Adrenaline’ was a moment hip hop heads everywhere had been waiting for when it dropped back in 1998, and not forgetting such classics as ‘You Got Me’ and ‘The Next Movement’, which transformed the hip hop landscape. Here the Grammy-Award winning musician talks exclusively to Anna Nathanson and explains why being back in Brighton means so much to him.
What brings you to Brighton?
The vibe here tonight is amazing. Brighton is the place that The Roots claim that our best show has ever come from. We played here back in 1994 and that show set the precedent for The Roots that you know now. The management of that show accidentally provided us with four times the speaker power and it was at that show that we discovered how to sonically transform our sound, to be bigger than us. Previously before that show we were just at the mercy of any sound man at the board; that was the show that we discovered that wait, the more speakers we have, the more power we have, so Brighton is the current standard for which all roots shows are judged. Brighton is even an adjective now, for the last ten years it’s been like ‘was it Brighton?’ ‘No not quite, it was close to Brighton but not quite.’
You’ve just come back from Dubai, how was that?
It was a revealing experience. It was revealing in that I discovered that If we totally depended on news networks for our source there would always be misconceptions galore, all isn’t too well between Americans and The Middle East and it took a lot of dialogue on my end, like I had a day off and I just walked the streets and talked to everybody, and basically discovered what I knew all along, two Government figures at a head with each other and they send their poor and their underprivileged to fight their battles, neither of which really care. I saw Americans out on vacation, some of whom are in the army and some of them contractors. Americans are bombing historical buildings in Iraq, then their people are the ones who get the contracts to rebuild the city. So I’m starting to figure out besides the oil what other big business does America profit from having this war? So sure enough it’s like ‘ok we destroyed your city, now pay us to rebuild it for you.’ I don’t support war at all.
You were the first hip hop DJ to ever play out in Dubai. How did that make you feel?
I was nervous. Because the club I was djing at is primarily a House Music club and even on the flyer it’s like five guys from Detroit, a couple of guys from Chicago and ‘?uestlove’, you know, and I get there and it’s like clearly the people are there for the house music and the guy who was on before me was playing house and I was about to change my thing at the last minute, and the promoter’s like ‘yo don’t get nervous, they’re starving, if you don’t play hip hop they’re gonna get angry, they need this. For a lot of people it was their first hip hop experience and that was very important to me. So I did it and it was crazy.
You’ve worked with everyone from Erykah Badu, Common, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, D’Angelo to Eminem and Jay-Z. Which of the artists you’ve worked with has had the greatest impact or made the biggest impression on you?
Well Jay-Z is definitely the coolest person I’ve ever worked with, but I gotta say D’angelo. Also, Jay Dee from Slum Village. The Voodoo album is basically our tribute to J Dilla. This guy is very indescribable; his production techniques are very remarkable. Its really hard to articulate what his uniqueness is among all hip hop producers but Voodoo is based on ‘what if Jay Dee made a record?’ we wanted to do something different, do something dirty, do something crazy and that was our tribute.
How do you perceive the state of hip hop today compared to say, ten years ago?
You know if I tell you what I feel ima be a grumpy old man. There’s some stuff I like. I mean there’s some stuff ten years ago I didn’t like.
Is there any MC who particularly impresses you?
Well hopefully Rhyme Fest who is down with Kanye will get his just due. Kanye’s stuff is beautiful, and of course ima ride for little brother til the end.
How about the UK scene?
I’m getting into grime, I’m studying it, but the thing is for anyone who is championing it, I know for every Streets and every Dizzy, there’s like 12 other groups who are just as good or better and are just not getting their just dues, so right now people are slowly putting me onto the UK scene. Hopefully you guys can establish a national identity, I think that’s one of the hardest things, most people feel that they have to import themselves to America to make it, like Slick Rick, and I’m glad that you guys are the innovators, the UK is finally coming to light.
Do you think the grime scene will be well received in The USA?
The United States is too shallow, they’re very docile; they’re very bull-like. Bulls are very strong animals, mindless but strong, and America’s slowly loosing their taste on how to determine what’s good and bad. If it’s on TV it must be good, they’re hypnotised. But it’s not America’s fault, it’s the government and it’s the media, who control the masses. But on the positive, I think the UK grime scene is something that will definitely blow up, hopefully get it’s just dues, regardless of whether that’s in The States or not. The UK has so much talent and that can’t be ignored. It’s great to be back over here again, and especially Brighton, the place has a unique vibe and I’ll be back here again and again, definitely!
By Anna Nathanson