My job at REVOLT is to connect the dots between music, culture, and politics while keeping a sane mind, so there is arguably no better man for me to have spent time with in 2017 than Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson. The notorious overworker is holding down something like 17 jobs at the moment, including being show business's go-to curator, DJ, late night TV bandleader, and a contributor to the official soundtrack for Kathryn Bigelow's cinematic tour de force DETROIT. With so much going on, Questo joined me to talk about all that's on his mind, and how he takes time to keep that mind clear.
Given how many directions his muse flows, how does he stay in the zone? "The two most important elements are to sit in absolute silence, and listen to nothing, and also (to cultivate) the idea of being bored," the artist shared. He's writing a book called Creative Quest to go deeper, but if it sounds like Questlove is talking about meditation, well, he is. "I would date girls who would always be like, 'get into meditation, man,'" he joked. "But I learned from a most unlikely source: Russell Simmons."
Now under the tutelage of Uncle Rush in what I can only assume is the school of transcendental meditation, Questo shares this of his life approach: "No crucial, life-altering decision should ever be made without a clear mind," he said. "My survival is literally dependent on that sort of concentration."
And survival is on his mind. As we turned to the recent events of Charlottesville, and how they related to what was portrayed in DETROIT, Ahmir said: "America is really yet to have an honest conversation with itself. We haven't dealt with how this land was acquired, how this land was built. Who was it built on the backs of? Who was it acquired from or stolen from?"
In speaking specifically of what the film's themes, he added: "It's 50 years ago, but it's also 50 minutes from now."
For the film, Questlove and The Roots collaborated with Bilal on "It Ain't Fair," and sought that classic Motown sound. To get it, Thompson says he consulted with the Dap-Kings, who worked on Amy Winehouse's Back To Black, in addition to their timeless contributions to the dearly departed Sharon Jones's work. The results hit the mark.
And if you're worried about this man overworking, you'll be happy to know that when our conversation at the Four Seasons in LA ended, Questlove hopped a flight to Hawaii for some a much needed (and practically unprecedented!) vacation. (Of course, he booked like four DJ gigs during his time on the islands, so use your definition of vacation liberally.)