Twenty minutes with Questlove and Black Thought was twenty minutes more than I ever expected to get in this lifetime.
Sitting in the lounge, fifteen minutes before my scheduled interview, I tried smoothing out my excitement. The fact that I was about to speak with two of Hip Hop’s most prominent architects hadn’t fully dawned on me. I remember years ago when I’d gone to meet Kweli after a show, I stood in line planning dozens of greetings that wouldn’t unveil me as the awkwardly earnest Hip Hop nerd I am. Of course when I shook his hand a “hey man” ran off my tongue as gracefully as DJ Khaled on a high board.
Stepping into the room where Quest and Thought sat waiting was practically an identical experience. I’d thought it would be fun to come in and say, “jamming on the one”, a phrase brought up by Quest in his interview with Nardwuar. That idea fell apart with my first step into the room, and maybe it was for the best.
My actual conversation with the guys was perfectly smooth, like the Martell Cognac sidecar I was served. Their reasoning for partnering with the liquor brand was noble. Black Thought shared the following: (paraphrased)
Martell has been around for a long time, they’ve established themselves as Vanguards. The Roots are one in the same. Our collaboration is a good means of expressing that. It’s through this collab that we’re able to throw concerts and bring people together.
Questlove also expressed how it’s furthering progress of the Food Salons he’s been curating, beautifully tying together the art of music and food. The success of these artistic endeavors can be attributed to The Roots’ creative spirit. I had an inkling of suspicion that this spirit and work ethic was influenced by Fela Kuti. However, speaking to the guys revealed that Fela Kuti’s style was more than an influential force, it was practically a blueprint. Black Thought shared how if you were to chop into his style, 40 to 50 percent would be coming from Fela. His rebellious spirit, motivation to reflect the times in his art, and unparalleled work ethic has all found a home in how The Roots function as a band.
Remembering Kweli’s thoughts on the need for balance within Hip Hop, I was curious to hear the guys’ thoughts. Quest’s belief was that the only glaring difference between Hip Hop then and now was the amount of channels available. The genre is certainly saturated and being bombarded with a certain sound can lead to a belief that it’s unbalanced. However he retains that the balance is there, people just aren’t devoting the energy to look for it.
Taking a step back I inquired about the guys’ perspective on modern production. Earlier in the week producer Apollo Brown remarked that his style of beat making (part of which was the heavy use of samples) was becoming obsolete.
“There’s got to be a return to the classics. Keyboard beats? They’re good, they get the job done, but in the end can you really fill an album with them?” – Questlove
For the Roots, sampling is a unique facet of Hip Hop. One that helped birth the genre. It carries a spirit of unity between the past and the present. That’s something I can clearly see the guys embody in their art. Speaking with them highlighted the honesty they carry into their art. The Roots are a one of a kind band. Questlove and Black Thought are two artists who will leave an indelible mark on Hip Hop. It was an honor to speak to them. I only wish I had more time, I could listen to the two of them talk about their art for hours.
Taking place in St. Louis, Detroit, Atlanta and Chicago, the Vanguard Series DJ events with Questlove started in October. Additionally, two concert events with The Roots will take place in Atlanta and Detroit. Throughout the six-part series, fans of Martell will experience live concerts and culinary events and will have the opportunity to taste and experience the Martell portfolio like never before. Each event will also feature local ambassadors from each city, inventive cocktails and specialty food pairings.
art by your homie, Arthur Banach
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