The Roots’ bandleader speaks with theGrio about working on the New York Times’ Independent Journalism campaign and the status of the long-awaited Roots album, ‘Endgame.’
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson has been an avid traveler, to say the least. As drummer and bandleader of the Roots, he has been from one end of the globe to the other. The New York Times is one of the most consistent parts of his gallivanting.
Over the years, the Grammy and Oscar winner has built up an “obsession” with the newspaper. So, when the Times premiered its new Independent Journalism campaign, Questlove jumped at the opportunity.
“I’m thrilled to be working with The New York Times on this campaign,” Questlove said in a statement. “As a subscriber since 2020, I get inspiration from the journalism, criticism, and even games by The Times. I even use the Sunday paper, which I’ve been reading for years as a touring musician, as a sketch pad to set intentions.”
Questlove talked to theGrio about his endeavor with the Times, the 30th anniversary of the Roots’ first album and the creative process of the next Roots album.
In this new Times venture, several people have shot short clips with poetic voiceovers to a video collage. The campaign illustrates how the publication helps fuel the curiosity of readers.
A 90-second film collage features Questlove referring to himself as “the poetry of stillness. A thundering drumbeat” as well as “bending genres” and “affirmation etched in vinyl,” among others.
The drummer says not only has the Times been a source of inspiration in his reading, but also in his personal and spiritual artistry.
“I do Sunday meditations in which I do art collages and sketches on New York Times papers,” Questlove explained. “I do kind of meditation canvasing with my art using a New York Times, doing like vision boards and those things as well. So yeah, I’m very proud to be part of that campaign.”
Inspiration has also been an essential part of Questlove’s life as a musician and he has been very upfront about how past artists have informed his music and the music of others. “There’s no artist that is not derivative of their influences,” Questlove said. “Prince worshiped Graham Central Station. So a lot of his early work reflected Larry Graham’s ‘77 to ‘79 period.”
He recalled how hip-hop acts influenced him and his Roots partner, Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, in their early days of street performing in their native Philadelphia. “For us to busk on the street corners, we were just emulating the music of that day,” Questlove explained. “We do the entire Tribe catalog, the entire Wu-Tang catalog. That would be our background music for busking. So, of course, that would bleed into the streets.”
Those sounds bled into 16 acclaimed albums and EPs like “Do You Want More?!!!??!,” “Illadelph Halflife,” “Things Fall Apart” and “undun.” It also led to a gig as the house band for “the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.” Still, it’s been nearly a decade since the Roots released its most recent album, 2014’s “…And Then You Shoot Your Cousin.” Questlove disclosed what he learned during that time.
“The [eight] years of not doing an album has made me more aware of the power of songwriting and kind of strengthening what were once weak areas with me,” he said.
Now, rather than looking to groups like Tribe and Wu-Tang for a spark like they did at the beginning of their career, Questlove said he, Trotter and the band will look within their own catalog for “Endgame,” which has been in the works for a long time.
“This is not our 17th album, but this is our first album, and we should be a band that’s influenced by the Roots. So I’m actually listening to our first seven albums, the way that a new band would grow up listening to the Roots. It’s kind of a weird meta-process.”
Fans still have a wait for “Endgame” because Questlove has been busier than ever. In addition to numerous musical side projects, he’s written six books, launched an award-winning podcast, “Questlove Supreme,” and become an Academy Award-winning filmmaker, thanks to his 2021 documentary, “Summer of Soul.”
Despite all of his other endeavors, however, Questlove has been a reliable source of musical information to a generation of music lovers and enthusiasts because he wants to help move the culture forward.
“I’m a really big subscriber of you don’t know where you’re going until you know where you came from,” Questlove said. “But I also know that no one likes like a-know-it-all or smart aleck. So, I had to find ways to make history fun.”
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