Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson is best known as the drummer in The Roots, one of the world’s longest running and most beloved Hip Hop groups, who also serve as the house band on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.”
He is also an acclaimed producer, arranger and DJ who has worked on Grammy award-winning records for the likes of Al Green and D’Angelo. Often referred to as a “cultural tastemaker,” he is the founder of acclaimed music blog OkayPlayer and an avid Tweeter with over 2 million followers.
Underneath it all lies the heart of a fan—an unrepentant musical geek—and it is this unbridled, giddy enthusiasm that drives his first book, Mo’ Meta Blues.
Co-written with Ben Greenman, author and editor at The New Yorker, the book is Questlove’s personal memoir, punctuated with anecdotes about the music that influenced him along the way—“When you live your life through records, the records are a record of your life.”
The book consciously eschews the typical “rise of the rap star” narrative, instead serving a mash-up of personal recollections mixed with riffs on music, race, creativity and pop culture.
What emerges is a fragmented—but highly enjoyable—portrait of a man for whom music is everything; not merely something to be created or consumed but also a fundamental way in which he connects with others—from early days of touring and performing within a musical family, to making beats in high school to win the approval of local cool kid and future Roots bandmate Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, to facilitating collaboration between like-minded artists under the Soulquarians banner and in doing so nurturing a nascent “Neo Soul” movement.
Mo’ Meta Blues covers a lot of ground—4 decades of musical inspiration, production and collaboration—and yet is eminently readable, told with Questlove’s blend of fanboy glee and self-deprecating humor. He tells of stashing forbidden Prince tapes—”Purple contraband”—in his drum kit as a teen. Fast forward a few decades and Questlove—now famous in his own right—finds himself waiting for hours in an empty skating rink in the middle of the night for a chance to rollerskate with his musical idol.
Questlove’s musical coming of age is often considered within the greater context of a burgeoning Hip Hop. At one point he discusses “the single most influential moment in the history of hip-hop”—not an album or video, but the 1986 episode of the Cosby Show in which Stevie Wonder guest-starred and demonstrated how to use a sampler: “…in awe of it, an entire generation of talented, ambitious black kids leaned forward in their chairs to the point of falling out.”
Questlove’s career is of course tightly interwoven with The Roots, as such the book serves as an insider’s account of the band’s 26-year career trajectory, often meditating on the challenges they faced carving a place for themselves in the perpetually shifting landscape of popular music. Winding up in present day, it explores their residency as the house band at Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and all of the opportunities and pitfalls that have come with it.