Questlove of the Roots Speaks on the Importance of Fela Kuti

?uestlove from The Roots, now an associate producer on the hit musical Fela! on Broadway, talks about when he first discovered Fela Kuti’s music, and walks us through Fela’s influence in yesterday and today’s hip-hop — including works by Mos Def, Macy Gray, D’Angelo, X-Clan, and Leader of the New School.

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Breakdown FM: Hip Hop Needs this Man Questlove


This is an incredible interview we did a few years back with Questlove of the Roots. He opened up and talked to us about the state of Black music, Life at Def Jam, Payola and a host of other things. Very insightful. If you are in the industry this is a must hear interview.. Special shout out to Liberator Magazine who transcribed some of Quest’s words check them out at the link below..

Listen to the Breakdown FM Interview by clicking the links below..

 (part one)
(part two)


Davey D: Is Jay-Z pimpin over there? [as president of Def Jam]

“At the end of the day, it’s like Universal pimps them all. From L.A. [Reid] to Jay-Z, even the other presidents, I think it’s sort of like the illusion of power thing. I think everyone is just tryna hang onto their position to not upset the head honcho of Universal. Like, he really controls it and everyone just wants to keep their job. I don’t think Jay-Z necessarily sweats it, because if he lost his job, he still has like a few hundred million in his back pocket… he can go back to his day job. So I think that’s why he’s a little more adventurous in flaunting the fact that he signed us. Cause he really has nothing to loose. Like if he gets fired it’s like, oh well. L.A. Reid, he looses his job, I don’t know. He already left BMG, there’s only Warner and Lyor [Cohen] ain’t having that.

“The idea of really being cool, is that if this stopped tomorrow, I could at least maintain this particular lifestyle for 10 years. In other words, I got 10 years to find a job. I don’t wanna be in the position in which… you know, well Ja Rule right now is sorta thinking about, ‘ok maybe I should invest in online poker playing’. So I hear he’s dabbling in how to license his image to do online poker playing… no I actually think they’re trying to turn Spades into the new Texas Holdem’ thing for black people. I mean it’s cool, if that’s his passion, you know what I mean, but it’s like I don’t know. I don’t want to set a particular standard for myself that I won’t be able to maintain…

“Even a person like Michael Jackson, just on a minimum, he has to generate $12 million a month just for upkeep. Like, someone has to cut the grass at Neverland, someone has to paint the walls, there might be spider webs growing, someone has to pay the staff. You need new milk every week, someone has to buy good. The electric bills must be crazy $15,000 a month. Someone has to oil the farris wheels. Like, just for maintenance, $12 million a month. And it’s like if you’re not generating that money, you’re gonna be in trouble. I guess Mike thought ‘well ok, my supplies are gonna last forever’… so the way I choose to represent myself in public is just in a very modest way… we are people.

The Roots

“A well known manager recently had to be escorted out of his clients major label home for trashing the place because of the disappointment of the first single of his client’s new album. And the measure that they went through to make sure to make sure that that song gets played… like the song was tested on the radio and at very best, lukewarm results. But because this artist is such a ubiquitous presence… I found out from a friend of mine who works at radio that they have to play this record… even though the audience has totally passed over it… [and this record is super] recent… the reason why the office was torn up was because the label was promised that ‘we will make sure that this particular artist gets at minimum of at least 12 plays a day on all the major market.’ And when they didnt get it he came in a tore up the office… and [now] this will look like one of the highest selling records this year… I seen the soundscan results of this record coming up, I know what it’s projected to do… but that’s the thing, it’s forced and it’s forced and it’s forced… Kids on my block… they don’t have [Apple] Macs, they don’t know about Limewire [downloading software], they don’t know to google ‘new hip hop acts’… when you’re forced into a situation, you’re just doing what you’re told. Unfortunately there’s really no tastemakers to direct people… now the gatekeepers are the new tastemakers.

“But that’s what I’m trying to tell the ‘Little Brothers’ [another upcoming Hip Hop group] of the world right now… there’s a way out of this maze.

“Once you know the nature of your audience you just deal with it. Most black folks are just blinded by celebrity. And celebrity is when your lifestyle sort of supersedes or is more famous than your art. In other words people more concerned with the dress Jennifer Lopez had on last night as oppose to how good she hit that note on this particular concert… this whole winner take all mentality that the black audience, the disenfranchised people have, he [who has celebrity] is seen as a winner. And so that sort of separates your palate for what is good.

“I’ll tell you exactly how it works. You gotta take a significant amount of money… you find an agent… who does not work for the label… he takes the money and he goes to one of the 5 or 6 major radio station owners… [whose] whole goal is to maintain your attention by any means… what he does is he goes to the owner of said company and says… ‘I got a artist here, The Roots. I think you’ll really feel them. What’s the deal?’ He plays it and instantly in 4 seconds they can tell if it’s a hit or not. Now in this case we got denied. Now this is where they have to barter. They say ‘well look, here’s the deal, Jay-Z, a fellow Universal artist is gonna do a few Power 106 Jamz like summer concerts for you…’

“Whenever you hear those Summer Jamz… those are bartered deals… so what happens is the person says ‘I know that you want Jay-Z to headline the Power Jam in Denver next summer… how about this, what if we throw in Lil Jon And The Eastside Boyz and also T.I. We’ll throw them in. We’ll have them appear at your store. This is all I want you to do. I just want you to give me good look on The Roots’ signal. Play this 20 times a week and see what your audience feels…’

“And usually a song like that will get the little litmus test… and if it catches on it automatically gets added. Or you can go a little further and say, well look, here’s some money, how are your kids doing in college…

“At the end of the day my expectation level is so grounded that I’m cool with just stayin relevant…meaning like as long as we makin a living… as in the people still admiring The Roots, and can’t wait for that new record and what the hell they gon do next… as long as that’s still there and we have a home to do it, I’m cool with it.

“There’s still artists in the pop world… Sonic Youth… [Bob] Dylan… those are prestige artists. They’re allowed to make records no matter what. The record will never pressure them… they’ll just let them do them, and it’s all fine because they have respect. There is no artist in black music that has reached that level. Most black artists, their primary goal is generate us money, or else. I kinda wanna be the first artist in the pop realm to do that. I know Wynton Marsalis has that in the Jazz world. Like, Jazz records don’t sell, but it’s prestige and he’s royalty.

On Def Jam Left:
“Def Jam Left was incorporating the idea of… junk bonds, where we’d have a jam session… so you have 18 artists coming to a jam session in San Francisco and a Jill Scott happens to come outta that pack, then we take that Jill Scott and let her do a single. If there’s buzz generated, treat her like an Indie then she gets to make an album… and if it doesn’t work, keep on developin her. And that’s what we wanted to do…

On Scott Storch:
“Scott Storch was with us… once you’re a Root your always a Root… I’ll quote Kanye… ‘the kid that did that, deserves that Maybach’… Scott used to sleep on rat infested floors… I’ve never seen anyone spew out music as quick as he does. He will work on 20 song a day… he has no emotional connection to the rejection. Like me, I’ll get pissed. I’ll work on a beat and if you front on it…. we gon be fightin. With Scott, he’ll work on a beat, you don’t like it: ‘how bout this? how bout this?’ and it’s ‘Cry Me A River’ for Justin Timberlake… then it’s like ‘Baby Boy’ for Beyonce. Like he’s just a machine like that.

Last Thoughts: “I want to really stress to people. Please, please, please, please, please invest in quality music. And put somebody else on to it. That’s the joy in music making. I enjoy sharing music with other people.

Below is our interview w/ Questlove on HardKnock TV

Below is the Questlove interview broken up in parts…

Questlove pt1:  Game plan, work ethic and Tipping Point

Questlove pt2:  Jon Brian, working hard

Questlove pt3:  economic well being

Questlove pt4:  Michael Jackson, production

Questlove pt5:  Disposable music, connecting to fans

Questlove pt6:  white audiences, payola, staying relevant

Questlove pt7:  Jthe root of the Roots

Return to Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner

Hip-Hop’s Betrayal of Black Women


Hip-Hop’s Betrayal of Black Women