Last week, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania drummer/deejay and producer ?uestlove spoke to HipHopDX. As a founding member of The Roots, ?uestlove is known for bringing Hip Hop back to its own roots that lie within organic percussion and an emphasis on performing before an audience. He and the band will be one of the headlining acts in the 33rd annual Playboy Jazz Festival on June 11 and 12 at Los Angeles, California’s Hollywood Bowl.
With Bill Cosby slated to master the ceremonies, Hugh Hefner’s long-running event will also feature important Hip Hop sample sources and trailblazers like Bob James, Harvey Mason and Fred Wesley.
The Roots Went From Fooling Jazz Promoters To Headlining Jazz Events
Asked about the importance of the Hip Hop band headlining a staple Jazz event, ?uestlove said that it marked a full-circle for the 20-plus year-old group, who once had to pretend to be a Jazz act for bookings. “The Roots’ disposition has always been a fusion of many genres. Our survival has sort of depended on appealing to a mass demographic of different audiences. We don’t have like a Jazz presentation – as opposed to a [Hip Hop show]. Back in the day, we used to have to do that: kind of lie to promoters and say, ‘Oh yeah, they’re a Jazz combo and they do some Spoken Word stuff. We kind of had to dumb-waiter ourselves into the building.” Today, as a Grammy Award-winning act on Def Jam Records, the Jazz community is embracing the crew, who will perform alongside trumpeter Terence Blanchard of Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers and Lionel Hampton fame. “There was a period when to be a ‘Hip Hop’ act, you had to prove yourself beyond, so in some places, we had to lie to get ourselves those type of gigs. Now, we’re pretty much the default go-to group for that type of thing.”
Sharing the stage with acts like Bob James, whose Two album possessed sounds that made hits for LL Cool J, Run-DMC and Ghostface Killah or Fred Wesley, who did the same with Eric B. & Rakim, ?uestlove is himself in awe. “I’m happier to see [the other artists].”
OFWGKTA’s First Shot Heard Round The World
While speaking to HipHopDX, ?uestlove was also asked about the February 18, 2011 “Sandwiches” performance with musical guests OFWGKTA (a/k/a Odd Future) on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. “That almost didn’t happen,” revealed ?uestlove, who along with The Roots, provided backing music for the DIY Los Angeles Hip Hop collective. “Jimmy [Fallon] came up to me and was like, ‘Yo, what do you think about Odd Future?’ I’m like, ‘Whoa. Wait. You mean like thee Odd Future, like [Tyler, The Creator] and those guys? What’chu know ’bout them?’ He was like, ‘What do you know about them? Dude, I love it. I work out to it.’ I was shocked as hell.”
Laughing, ?uestlove noted that as an outspoken proponent of in-your-face music, he was the one who was reserved about what could possibly go wrong with the punk-spirited act. “It was weird; we changed positions. Normally, I’m very protective of who comes on the show and that type of thing. Of course I was excited for [us] to do something different, but a big part of me is like, I wonder if [producers] know that this could potentially be an FCC nightmare? [Chuckles] All of a sudden, I felt like the school principal.”
However, the NBC performance, Odd Future’s first nationally-televised appearance, prompted a slew of press coverage and interest in the group which includes Hodgy Beats, Domo Genesis and Frank Ocean, among others. “We pulled it off. It was perfect. And it was talked about. To me, that makes great late night television. It was one of the pivotal moments when you have an artist so buzzed about, and they kind of rise to that occasion.”
A veteran of the industry and defying Hip Hop convention, ?uestlove spoke further about his assertion that OFWGKTA see their mission through. “I’m always telling Tyler, every time I see him, ‘Yo dude,”…it’s sort of like what Chris Rock jokes, a father’s whole mission in life is to keep his daughter off the [stripper] pole. [Laughs] I’m tryin’ to tell him, ‘Yo dude, just don’t drop the ball.’ I don’t want no Wu-Tang [Clan]/Rage Against The Machine 1997 tour shenanigans going on, ‘Fuck this shit, I quit.'”
Furthermore, ?uestlove publicly compared the Los Angeles outfit to Wu-Tang musically, who successfully established over nine careers based on an anti-industry sound and energy in the early 1990s. “I’m always on they ass; ‘Finish the mission,” continued ?uest. “It’s gonna be tedious, it’s gonna be long, but you’re already halfway there.’ [Tyler, The Creator] runs his label and he has over 15 acts. They, essentially, are the new Wu-Tang. A step further – they’re Wu-Tang, plus they are the new Black Flag and to me, Bad Brains. Just the energy of their show is that.”