questlove's ultimate guide for young creatives
New York treasure and undisputed musical genius Questlove explained his artistic approach to extraplanetary artist Tom Sachs at the Brooklyn Museum.
"Whatever is popular, do the opposite." So said Questlove at his talk last week at the Brooklyn Museum with Tom Sachs. The pioneering drummer of the Roots, author (Mo' Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove), Brooklyn DJ, and one of the most influential musical thinkers of our time, joined the NASA-obsessed artist for an unfiltered and unexpected conversation that delved into topics from Instagram to Usher. Questlove schooled Brooklynites on the elements of becoming a true artist. Here are six of his best tips for young creatives.
1. Join the inspiration nation.
When Questlove was 21, he had an epiphany while watching South African selector Aba Shanti spin in a London church. "When he turned the bass up everyone had a mass colonic and I was like 'that's what I want to be when I grow up.'" To aspiring musicians, he now shares that sense of inspiration through his eclectic Instagram account. To his 757k followers he is known for posting clips of rare vinyls, along with videos of iconic performances and archival images of musical heroes. Sachs, a fellow music aficionado, gave props to Questlove's feed, calling it "a huge gift." While Quest acknowledged that some may see posting pictures of your extensive record collection as a sort of "humble bragging", it's really all about sharing the love. "If 36,000 spins of an old record will make 2,000 people look that up, then that's cool."
2. Practice your craft like a jazz master.
"People see DJing as a very dismissive thing but I'm talking a near Coltrane/Charlie Parker-esque preparation." The Tony-winning actors and actresses who danced the night away at the Hamilton after party probably had no idea that Questlove spent 16 hours prepping for the Central Park blow-out. The seven-hour-long outdoor set ended up being his most successful gig yet, despite the fact that Lin-Manuel Miranda threw him for a loop by a last minute request to fit a Big Pun song into the meticulously crafted playlist. His dedication to DJing earned him the "best compliment ever" from Lupita Nyong'o who posted a post-party message to him on Instagram, gushing "You gave us NO CHOICE but to take off our shoes…you switched genres, gliding back and forth in and out like it was your first language."
3. Less is more, even for Usher.
Both artists agreed on this simple rule. "Less is more, is everything," offered Sachs to which Questlove wholeheartedly agreed. "I'm trying to teach musicians now that doing less is what will serve the song." Earlier this month he tested out this mantra on Usher by convincing him to perform an intimate Prince tribute at The Roots Picnic. The R&B superstar's six-pack stomach and sensual dance moves were nowhere to be seen during his stripped-down medley of "U Got It Bad" and Prince's "Adore" but the show moved the audience and even surprised the singer himself. Quest joked, "He has not stopped calling."
4. Keep a record of everything because Mary J. Blige might need it.
On why he used to always carry around a giant suitcase of VHS tapes and DVDs, Questlove explained, "There was a point before Youtube that I was Youtube. You'd never know who was gonna call you, it could be D'angelo, it could be Mary J. Blige it could be anyone, but they'd be like 'Yo, I need to see that 1976 Al Green performance in Tennessee, do you have it?'" One of the only obscure musical moments that he couldn't back up was a long-lost clip of James Brown, Michael Jackson, and Prince on stage together. "That was my 'little boy that cried wolf' moment, people thought I was lying about that." Now it's on Youtube.
5. Just do it.
"I don't think it's a coincidence that every left-of-center artist and creator overthinks and sabotages the beauty they have." Questlove offered a loose categorization of creative minds, describing how there are those whose self-doubt often stunts their artistic growth and then there are the Jay-Zs of the world - "the achievers" who make things happen. As Hov once rapped, "I'm not afraid of dying. I'm afraid of not trying."
6. Make way for the next generation.
A collective sense of FOMO descended on the audience when Questlove recalled the years that The Roots were sleeping "on Erykah's couch" and hanging with Dave Chappelle, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Jill Scott, and Erykah Badu. While Chappelle's massive block party in 2005 seemed like a joyous occasion for all, to him it was a bittersweet ending to an epic era of constant collaboration. The moment that said it all was this now legendary clip of Kanye West leading the "Jesus Walks" Parade: "I saw the stars in the eyes of the marching band when they saw him, I was like, 'This is where I get off and he's the new leader.'"
Text Jasmine Williams
Image courtesy Brittney Najar/Brooklyn Museum