I remain on the tail end of a generation raised when Black culture was not synonymous with Hip-Hop. I was one of the last kids to know what it was like to have a R&B/Soul radio station and an urban music station. I was raised amidst the era of Stevie Wonder, Phyllis Hyman and Luther Vandross, and later Boyz II Men, En Vogue and SWV. When Hip-Hop crossed into mainstream, I liked Biggie, Tupac and Jay -Z, but I didn’t live it, not like I did Destiny’s Child and Christina Aguilera.
In college came the point of differentiation when my friends from Philadelphia introduced me to Amir “Questlove” Thompson. This was years before his associations with “Chappelle’s Show” and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” when Questlove was the incidental musical director for my life, and that of every other politically astute college student.
With college came a set of so-called “conscious” Black friends who also introduced me to Slum Village, Common, Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild, Bilal and The Roots. The Roots were everything and I went from an ear saturated with Pop music, to a state of mind soundtracked by Neo-Soul and the debate on the difference between Rap and Hip-Hop. (I think that meant that The Roots were rap.)
Conversations wrapped around the significance Mumia Abu-Jamal, the digital divide, justice, integration and well, boys. (Only to later discover that there was nothing safe or significant about anyone who self-defined as a “conscious” brother. Young men can be reckless, deep thoughts or not.) And while I lived for dancing to music from Bad Boy at the everyday dorm party, I was anchored in relationships harmonized by artists who were down with the Roots crew. In fact, it was Jay-Z’s MTV Unplugged album, for which The Roots provided the acoustic sound, that moved me from a fan of a few of his hits to a lover of Jay-Z’s craft as an emcee.
In his memoir, “Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According tT Questlove” (the title an inference to the Spike Lee classic and the similarities between jazz’s audience and that of The Roots), Questlove lets his audience into his world, without divulging much about his person. Delivered in a cadence fitting the artist of a few words, “Mo’ Meta Blues” reads like the transcript of a podcast, sharing the journey of a phenomenal regular guy who motivated by an intrinsic love of music and a heart given to crush on some very recognizable names. His co-author, New Yorker editor Ben Greenman, serves more as Questlove’s sparring partner in developing a story that allows for the work-in-progress nature a memoir delivered by someone with a lot of life ahead of him.
Music is the love of Questlove’s life–the son of a soul singer, whose best friend, from the very beginning of life, is his drum. And beyond the early exposure to the music industry gained while accompanying his father on tour, Questlove’s talent seems meant to be, given that he grew up with fellow notables Boyz II Men (which is why Questlove cameos in their first music video, “Motown Philly”) and Amel Larrieux (Groove Theory), who was actually was his prom date. So while I was on the R&B/Soul station, so was Questlove. In fact, he layers the first part of his story, the years before we knew him, with definitive albums and playlists that remain as the remembrances a given year in his life.
The book reveals some fun celebrity memories, including a rather divulging admission to a failed celebrity crush, without revealing much about the man. He admits things he’s done wrong in his career and divulges regrets, while depicting himself as the only musician in the room to restrain from the indulgence of female fans. Not at all believable. But he is the ever-lovable Questlove–part dork (he shares so many adorable fails with celebrities), part icon (without revealing much information on the inner workings of the band, he offers an enviable roster of artistic partnerships) and for a story told in the middle of a star’s life, “Mo’ Meta Blues” is a fulfilling read, best enjoyed in daily doses, rather than a deep dive.
The best part of the book was the necessity to cue up Spotify and follow along in the defining moments of Questlove’s life. Favorite tracks include: James Brown’s “Get on the Good Foot,” Rufus‘ “Sideways,” Sly and the Family Stone’s “Just Like a Baby,” Bill Withers’ “Take It All In and Check It All Out,” KISS‘ “Christine Sixteen,” Michael Jackson‘s “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough,” the Mick Jackson version of “Blame It on the Boogie” and the Beastie Boy’s “The Future.” Of course, there about a hundred other amazing tracks mentioned within the lines of a book designed to whet a fan’s palette, while leaving space for a story that has more room for revelation at a later stage in Questlove’s life.
This memoir is perfect for summer, with its local reminisces, like treks to Wawa, and sweet notes of things such as the song that always makes Questlove freak out, or the group he doesn’t always admit that he loves, or the artist that has caused him to feel a bit of jealousy. It seems he represented thoughts of revolution and wonder, his story took off, as all the good ones do, because of a girl. Few better things lead a good read, or great music, as does love. Grab your copy of this story of hip-hop and feel the bliss of an incredible soundtrack of memory lane.
“Mo’ Meta Blues,” by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Ben Greenman, is available for sale on June 18th.
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