Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson remembers—seemingly, in HD—every moment of his life. Maybe that’s because every memory coincides with a song. And when you ask about a song, he remembers innocuous details about the singer, the writer, the drummer, the guitarist, the producer, the song mixer, the year, and hell, it seems he even knows the measure of electricity used to record the music. He’s also refreshingly honest—and often amusingly self-deprecating—in his fascinating memoir, Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove, co-written with Ben Greenman ($26; Grand Central Publishing).
The Roots drummer with the iconic ‘fro, in an interesting extended Q&A format, tells of his first meeting with Prince, during which he totally goofed and said something quite odd. A few chapters later, he details Tupac’s interruption of A Tribe Called Quest during the Source Awards (going on to say the incident was a precursor to the random feuds in hip-hop). And though he was around 8 or 9 years old at the time, he somehow (quite accurately) remembers all the details surrounding the creation of Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life, and he describes an elementary school teacher reminding students to pay particular attention to phenomenal jazz harpist and soul sista Dorothy Ashby.
Via his communiqué on the intersection of life, love and music, Quest illustrates his beautiful soul. He didn’t watch much TV, so he has no warm memories of ’70s or ’80s TV shows. His memoir intertwines quite poetically with the soundtrack of his life.
EBONY: You have an encyclopedic memory of music. How do you possibly remember all those details? You were, like, 5!
Questlove: My parents were really strict about me not watching cartoons. I couldn’t watch All in the Family or Good Times or The Jeffersons. I don’t even remember Diff’rent Strokes in its first run. When you have no option but to listen to music and music is constantly being played, [then] music is the source. In a week’s time I could hear one song [on the radio], lets say Bill Withers live version of “Grandma’s Hands.” I’m gonna hear it an average of nine to 15 times a week. There are 52 weeks in a year, and we’re talking about the first eight years of my life. Stuff was hammered in my head. I thought everyone had that music knowledge.
EBONY: You offer interesting “B-side” insight to many events in hip-hop history, including the resurgence of Philly sound via Jill Scott and Bilal and views on Nas and Tupac.
Questlove: I’m not one of those people who’s so blinded by my own work and my sweat. It’s kind of risky writing a memoir when you’re really part of a larger universe. Everyone has [his or her] own reality. I almost thought it’d be a disservice to not show the people what really happened. Where my publisher actually stopped me was when I wanted to put footnotes on footnotes, which would have probably given me another 400 pages.
EBONY: Quick, describe the soundtrack for each decade of your life.
Questlove: The ’70s? A learning curve because I didn’t have much control over what was played. The ’80s were the contraband years, when my parents discovered Christianity. Prince records then were often discovered, hidden and disposed of. The ’90s, I guess that was self-discovery. I turned into an adult. Hip-hop made me appreciate my father’s 5,000 records. In the 2000s, I became an artist. I started preserving and educating. I became more obsessed with making iPod playlists for people. I did that for Blue Ivy [Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s daughter].
Contact Senior Editor Adrienne Samuels Gibbs via Twitter @adriennewrites.
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Senior Editor, EBONY Magazine