One of my favorite parts from Mo’ Meta Blues, a memoir by The Roots drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, occurs about two-thirds of the way through the book. Questlove is talking about Things Fall Apart, the band’s fourth album, and one in which critics first began saying that the band wasn’t “black enough.” Questlove says: “I have a giant afro. I weight over three hundred pounds. No one, upon first seeing me, thinks I’m not black enough. And yet, in interviews, I’m still going through that whole speaks-so-well syndrome.”
Although this questioning of the band’s identity initially bothered Questlove, Rich Nichols, the band’s manager/producer, taught him how to embrace it. “You know the scene in Good Will Hunting where Matt Damon shows off his intellect to the guys in the bar?” he writes. “That’s what it’s like with Rich. Nothing pleases him more than for people to think that he’s some kind of dreadlocked, dirty homeless man and then to hit them with that supernova intellect.” Questlove also follows this same mentality, not letting society’s preconceived notion of him bring him down because he uses his intellect to his advantage.
These instances of self-realization are interwoven through chapters filled with childhood memories, record reviews, thoughts on the evolution of hip hop, encounters with celebrities and exchanges between Rich and co-writer Ben Greenman in Mo’ Meta Blues, which is not your typical memoir. This is evidenced on the first page when Questlove says, “I don’t want it to be your average book.”
Thankfully for us readers, it’s not, because just like listening to an amazing album, you want each song to grow and get better, but to also be different and offer a unique message. That’s what each chapter in this book does – it randomly chronicles the life of an awkward, music-obsessed kid from Philly who grows into a still awkward, but profoundly confident messiah of music. One minute Questlove is sharing childhood stories about being on the road with his musician parents and meeting fellow Roots band member Tariq in a school lunchroom, and the next he’s sharing the band’s feeling of defeat when their first few records weren’t huge successes.
Despite upsets with record labels and the “funeral of hip hop in 1995,” Questlove remains a true fan of all music, touching on old school hip hop acts like A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and The Pharcyde, ‘80s icons Prince and Michael Jackson, ‘90s rappers Notorious B.I.G. and Puffy, and alternative rockers Nirvana. He even admits to being wrong about preconceived notions he had of rap icons Jay-Z and Kanye West, and modern day rock band Dirty Projectors. For him, “Music has the power to stop time. But music also keeps time,” and as a drummer, he will always be a timekeeper.
Source: Soul Culture UK
Other notable events that Questlove addresses include: the deaths of Biggie, Kurt Cobain and band member Dilla, the September 11 attacks, ice skating with his music icon Prince, the election of Obama, working on The Chappelle Show and becoming part of Jimmy Fallon’s house band.
I agree with Questlove that The Roots “is the last hip hop band, the last of a dying breed,” because they just don’t make good hip hop music like they did back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Even though I’m a shy, half white/half Korean girl and Questlove is a 300-pound African-American male, I feel like we have much in common. I’ve never been white or Korean enough, and he says he’s never been black enough. This book will show people of all ages and races that it’s not what you look like, but what you embrace and appreciate, that defines you. It also shows that a love of music can bind all races together.