Questlove.
The Roots. Legendary Musician.
Voice of a Generation.
Social Activist. Chef.
Entrepreneur. Composer.
He’s Conquered TV, Film and now faces himself.
He gets real about losing black legends too early, his personal transformation and why this country has a long way to go.

Maranda Pleasant: Initially, I wanted to talk about The Black Power Mixtape and the voice of strong black leaders. I’ve also been following what’s happening with your new Hoodie Shop and your voice on Treyvon. I wanted to give you some space if you wanted to say anything around what’s happening with that.

Questlove: Well, you know, what I’m slowly realizing is that I believe that most of us felt that we could relax a little bit after November 2, 2008, because of the progress and the spirit that it took to get Barack Obama in The White House. And what we didn’t realize, is that was really the beginning. That was really the beginning of the struggle and not the end of a struggle, to come from colonial times through slavery, through the Jim Crowe Laws, through the civil rights period to The White House as, like a point A/point B journey. Point B of course being the end. But I think what we’re slowly realizing is that a lot of us got relaxed after November 2, 2008. There were things happening that we thought we were done with some seventy, eighty years ago, only to find out that we are closer to a 1920’s existence. So I’m learning this go-around that there’s still a long way to go.

MP: Yes.

QL: So yeah, it’s a long way to go. It’s a long way to go.

MP: You wanna talk just for a second about The Hoodie Shop? I know that’s been in the works for a long time, but does it have any special significance right now?

QL: Well, I’m kinda baffled that the night before our grand opening was the night before his murder. I’m just so amazed now that The Hoodie now almost has a political symbol to it. In no way were we ever tryin’ to capitalize.

MP: Right.

QL: I’ve always been a lover of hoodies. I’m a guy that travels a lot. I’m a guy that spends a lot of time on a cold air-conditioned tour bus. I’m a guy that likes to watch movies in peace. I’m a guy that likes to travel in the airport in peace. You know, hoodies have been my friend for the last fifteen, twenty years of my career. It’s almost like when I’m not on stage my wardrobe says every day is laundry day; it’s pretty much just like the hoodie. I’ve been really creative with my outfits and so when the chance presented itself to partner up with Pete Shapiro, I welcomed it because I love hoodies. I really wasn’t aware of how much it was gonna be demonized, you know, post the Rivera rant. I think that we’re ignoring the bigger issue, which is a true understanding, a true healing. That’s something Obama said in his race speech of 2008, when he spoke about how America has yet to really come to grips with these feelings on race and on the cultural differences between everybody. I think that we swept under the rug enough, but you know the time has come. I mean, it happens all the time, but you know this will only continue to happen until there comes a resolution.

MP: I really like what you’re doing; using celebrity to actually bring attention to issues.

QL: Right.

MP: I really appreciate when people use their fame and their voice for more than just self-promotion, starting a dialogue about a topic or an issue much bigger than themselves. Which leads me to The Black Power Mixtape and what it was like working on that. That was huge and I saw that it won all kinds of music awards.

QL: Yeah, we won the Sweden equivalent of an Oscar.

MP: Right. Congratulations on that, by the way.

QL: Oh, thank you. Thank you so much. The filmmakers at the time, when they presented us with this idea, basically showed me a lot of raw footage. They gave me over three hours of raw interview footage never seen before; it was just sitting in a basement of this news station over in Sweden. What was amazing to me was, even though this was forty years ago, it rings true as if this was done forty months ago. So it was real easy for me to just add the easy elements to it.

MP: It’s not a small thing to be asked to be a part of it, considering all of the names. It’s a part of history, a legendary document now.

QL: Well, this is the first movie score that I did in which I didn’t have a template in front of me. Mind you, I had all the raw footage. So I didn’t know how it was going to be edited. Normally when I score a film, I’m looking at the film and doing the score as I’m watching it on the screen. But here, I just had to watch the footage and just go with the mood. I mean, it was kind of raw but I still think we successfully got through it.

MP: What was it like watching some of this footage? Was that an emotional process?

QL: It was baffling to see the Angela footage from prison.

MP: Yeah.

QL: Even more baffling was to see a lot of the prison interview footage of a lot of the inmates there. Some of them are really coming from a hopeless space where they felt like they didn’t have a future. I was born at a very crucial time. I consider 1968 to be the Mason Dixon line between pre- and post-civil rights generation ideas, whereas a lot of people born before ‘68 they kind of went into that Moses mentality. Like, I’m not going to make it, you know, I don’t have any hope. That was my father’s attitude. My father was like, I tried to have a career—the singing—it didn’t work out right. One of the most beautiful things he told me was, “Son, you don’t know what a relief it is to know that I now know I can die now and seriously know that, I made my mark. You are the best thing I’ve ever created, because you got to achieve things that I could never imagine.” It’s saying that a lot of pre-‘68 black people are in the mindset that they might not make it. Whereas a lot of us after ‘68 took on a sort of hustler’s mentality. Legal or not legal, there’s always a hustler’s mentality of: I gotta win.

MP: Right.

QL: I feel as though that is one of the biggest misunderstandings about the civil rights period. Just because the laws were changed doesn’t mean that the attitudes have changed. And that’s what has to change—the attitude of America. I hear a lot of cries of socialism and certainly real disguises of “Why should I share my money with these people?” We have to get back to “we.” It’s important to get back to “we” not just “I.”

MP: I think it’s a bit of a shadow on our own humanity, and I don’t think it’s a black and white issue as much as just a shadow on our humanity that any of us would tolerate injustice to anyone.

QL: Right.

MP: Yeah, I’m with you. I know it’s a hard segue, but one thing that I really wanted to talk about was your Questlove Eats. I wanted to tell you that we ran into Martha Stewart at the MoMa last month and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if Martha and Questlove did a food interview?”

QL: Yeah, I love her to death. Anytime she comes on the show, man, like she’s one of the most fun guests we’ve ever had. You know, one of the best things about being on this show is like, “Wow, I’m one of the rare human beings that can say that he’s eaten the cooking of one of the most top respected chefs of this past century. Everyone that comes on the show cooks for us and it is just amazing. We’re so lucky.

What first started the idea was I saw all these specialty food trucks everywhere, and wanted to open one. But I never had the time or the resources to do so. So once I got a steady job here in New York, we spent time exploring the food truck option. Then we got an amazing response about the chicken—tonight, from Food and Wine, I’m getting like a “Best New Chef” award. I’m just baffled. David Chang wants to battle me. (laughs) So he and I are gonna go two-for-two with our chickens on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. You know, this is amazing. We’re going past the the level of just doing food trucks. I’m partnering with Graham Elliott.

MP: Wow.

QL: One of the most respected guys, I know. He and I are partnering on a catering venture, where I can do music, and include my drumsticks and stuff. He complements the powers of the menu. So this is definitely a world I know nothing about, but you know, it is very interesting and an amazing ride so far. So I’m very excited.

MP: And there’s not much that you don’t do, is what I’m getting.

QL: Yeah, I just got my hands all over (laughing). The Hoodie Shop; I’m selling my T-shirt stuff with Kid Player; got Questlove’s food—the drumstick venture.

MP: What else? What else you got? (laughs)

QL: (laughing) Well, before 2009, I devoted about 240 days of my life to music; The Roots from 1994 all the way to, like, 2009. That’s a long time to develop and devote your craft, making records, and touring. So now that I have time on my hands there’s other dreams that I wanna pursue. So it’ll slowly come true. I design these shoes for Nike, designing hoodies; there’s a lot that I do.

MP: What are the things you’re most excited about this coming year? I mean, obviously Questlove Eats, and The Hoodie Shop…

QL: That’s all just starting, but at the end of the day, I don’t want to lose track. I still am lovin’ my music and I’m gonna start work on our 16th record.

MP: BAM.

QL: Yeah, our 16th album. Well, I’ll probably start it in July.

MP: You take a step back and you realize that you’ve become revered as a music legend. You’re not only a legend, but—

QL: Do you wanna know my secret?

MP: What?

QL: I never ever ever ever ever ever EVER ever do that. I will never do that. That’s a jinx to me. I feel like the downfall of any person is the second an artist starts celebrating their work themselves, that becomes problematic. And you know, I don’t sit there, I don’t bask in the awards I’ve won, you know, read my bank statements, I refuse. To me, that’s how you start losing the hunger. So for me personally, I just don’t celebrate it. I’m happy, right now. You know, in the present. If you asked, “Are you happy?” “Yes, I’m very happy.” But you know, I’ve seen a lot of situations where this could instantly end just like that. So—
MP: Is that what keeps you hungry? ‘Cause you’re always goin’ and—

QL: Absolutely. Yeah, you saw what happened to Conan O’Brien. He had no clue that he’d be in the position that he was in the second he was going to move to Los Angeles. He just thought, “Wow, this is a start to a new venture,” you know? He didn’t know his whole empire was about to crumble. I thought, “Wow, even when you’re on top—Blamo!” It could be taken away from you any second.

MP: Yeah.

QL: Now, it doesn’t mean that I walk around like a debbie-downer, you know, preparing for the worst, but I’d never stop hustling or working. I can’t afford to.

MP: I’m talking to Chuck D later on today with other hip hop leaders about changing the face of consciousness and really creating something positive with our lives and the importance of self care as well.

QL: That’s important. I’m on day 47 right now (laughing).I look forward to the days when I can stop counting like a prisoner—

MP: Day 47 of what?

QL: I’ve pretty much done a health overhaul of my life.

MP: (laughing) And you’re counting the days?

QL: Yeah well, the day that I started, I was starting to hear the word “stroke” just a little too much. Friends of mine have died of strokes at 40 and peers of mine have died of strokes in their 40s and it was disturbing me. It was absolutely killing me that I’ve spent the first 25 years of my life tryin’ to avoid bullets. That was always the main concern. Don’t go out late. Don’t go to any shady neighborhoods. Don’t hang in bars alone. Why? Because you wanna avoid bullets. So once I get to 35 then I was like “Woo, okay. Made it.” And now there’s a new warning. Now it’s like strokes; I gotta watch my health. So now, what I did was, 47 days ago—there’s basically a plan. Not a plan, it’s called a trainer. His name is Darryl Aiken. He trains in a way that’s sort of unorthodox, ‘cause he deals with people that have—in my case, I’ve always had a case of lymphedema, so I’ve always had lymphatic issues with my health.

MP: I didn’t realize that.

QL: I hired a trainer, a yoga instructor, a lymphatic masseuse, a chef, an acupuncturist, and a therapist. So six people, which is probably a little extreme but you know, I think it’s very important, especially because I want to be as healthy as I can be so I can make it past 50; make it past 60 and make it past 70. You know, the hip hop lifestyle doesn’t really celebrate health and most people look at it and are like, “Ah, that’s kooky and a bit Granola Hippie!” (laughs) I’m slowly seeing a lot of people like Guru of Gang Starr, he succumbed to a heart attack. I’m seeing a lot of people fall by the wayside ‘cause you can’t live off of four bottles of Patron a week. You can’t live off of excessive smoking. You can’t live off of just greasy fatty foods and stayin’ up till six in the mornin’ just partyin’. You gotta take care of yourself.. So right now, I’m on my 47th day of this plan. I mean, basically I’m caught somewhere between a vegan and a pescetarian lifestyle. My chef has totally taken out gluten, wheat, and most dairies out of my diet. Two days of the week I get to have fish, shrimp, or lobster. The other five days of the week it’s either seitan, soy, or tofu. I do a lot of greens. I do a lot of juice cleansing, ginger, and a lot of beet juice.

MP: Awesome.

QL: Yeah, it’s just a total turn around. Before I’d just have a pizza without thinkin’. A lot of fatty foods, but, you know, I’m turning my life around now.

MP: So good. You know, Stic.man from Dead Prez does our health column. He’s been a pioneer for years. His passion is to get black men, especially high-risk, low-income black men, and getting them taking care of their bodies. And watching what they put in their mind, watch your thoughts and watch what goes into your mouth.

QL: He has no clue. Like his “Be Healthy”—that haunted me probably more than any hip hop song. It’s really weird, ‘cause I know that Dead Prez was super militant. Probably one of the most revolutionary songs they’ve ever done was “Be Healthy.”

MP: Yes.

QL: The same way that N.W.A.’s “F*ck Da Police” affected me when I first heard it. “Oh my god! Can you say that?” When I first heard “Be Healthy” I was on tour with D’Angelo and I was like “Yo, listen to this.” We sat there with our mouths dropped, like we’d never heard black men talk about this ever. Like, really? So that’s always been in the back of my mind as I go through the struggle. And it is a struggle. You know one point I’ll sit back and I think of my heaviest day in ‘99. I was about 480 lbs..

MP: Are you serious?

QL: Almost on the verge of 500, and when Big Pun died of a heart attack, that was my first scare. So I managed to drop 200 lbs. and go to like 300, but you know, it’s not even safe at 300. I’m trying to even drop another 100 lbs. just to live in the area of 200. You know, only because now I’m settled and I’m kinda steady in New York, and I want a future. I’m tryin’ to get a wife and kids, that type of stuff. I gotta take care of me.

MP: Did you say yoga was a part of that?
QL: Yeah. Again, I was one of those skeptics that thought that yoga was for kooks. Now I’m on a very strict regimen. You know, I work out. That’s another thing I’ve learned relaxin’, sleep, yoga. I didn’t know that that’s as crucial as going hard, as workin’ hard, as exercising hard. I never knew. I thought that, “Okay, I gotta be at the gym like five hours everyday going balls to the wall.” And what my yoga instructor, what my trainer, what they’re trying to teach me is that, “No, it’s sleep.” That’s important. That’s just as important as workin’ out. So I’ll say that Monday and Tuesday I work out in the gym from about eight to eleven.

MP: Wow.

QL: Wednesday I do acupuncture at nine in the morning until ten, and then Thursday I work out. Friday I do yoga again. Saturday I do lymphatic massage, gotta cool down. And Sunday I take the day off, then I do yoga at night. So this is like my sixth week doin’ this.

MP: Not only am I so incredibly proud of you but I’m also very envious. (laughs)

QL: Well, ya know, I got vanity reasons too. My vanity reasons are a little different than other people’s vanity reasons, but most people are like, “Oh, I got a photo shoot or I got an album cover I gotta shoot.” But my reason is a little different. When we have our two-week period off in August I wanna go to Six Flags and not have to worry about fitting in the ride and stuff, so that’s my goal. That’s my small goal really. You know, there’s gonna be a lifestyle choice, but you know, my reward is hopefully four months from now I’ll be fit enough so that I can enjoy myself at Six Flags.

Leave a Reply