Interview: Sally A. Edwards
Photography: Sarah J. Edwards
"Wait...Can I hear what I sound like?" asks Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson of The Roots. I pop my other earphone into his ear.
"Oh no. No. This doesn't sound sexy at all. I sound like I'm landing an aeroplane... Crrrrrr, 17! You read me? It's three degrees." Are you ready?
"Yeah," says Ahmir, "I'm ready."
Alright. "The Tipping Point". Can you tell us about the theory and why you chose this for the title of your latest album?
"We... It... Hu... You know? I'm playing!" Ahmir grins, pretending we have a bad connection.
Actually, I should probably take a moment to set the scene. We're sitting in a rather lovely restaurant in London's West End. So lovely in fact we're hiding the recording equipment. The Minidisc recorder is tucked between us on the seat, I have an earpiece in my right ear. Ahmir sits to my right with an earpiece in his left ear. He has the tiny mic between his fingers held in front of his mouth. It's more of a spy set up than the usual tape recorder on the table we're more familiar with.
Oh yes, the earpieces – which I'm sure you're wondering about are so we can hear what's being said, because the lovely restaurant is by reservation only. Hence it's always packed, and always very loud. Sarah, I have to add, did the usual trick of blagging us a table. Get it?
Anyway, where were we Ahmir?
"Let me just say first, you and your sister are... you are the human form of the truth serum. Only in this magazine will I truly give the real answers and not my contrived journalistic answers."
Well, that's a wonderful thing. So, what is the theory behind the title of your album?
"It's the PC version of 'Get Rich, Or Die Trying'."
It's taken from a novel isn't it? Can you tell us a little about it?
"OK. The novel was written by Malcolm Gladwell and it discussed his theories on how a small idea can lead onto a bigger phenomenon. And being as though..."
... there's no certain way it tips?
"It neither skewers left or right, but it grows, it expands. It expands like a sphere. I think with us, the true observation of what makes us work..." Ahmir pauses. "I've made two observations. One: The Roots are the only black band with a major label recording deal from the United States. We're the only black band. The only group of black musicians in pop music that has a major label recording deal. And, we do not have one dance hit and we're a rap group... 12 years and no dance hit, but we're still here and you know, I was just having one of those 'whys?'. "You know, 'Why is this working?'. I mean it could be half full or half empty and I didn't want to say, 'Well, why haven't we blown up?'. I'm just like, 'Why are we still here?', 'Why do we still matter?'... because we're against everything.
"We're fundamentally against what hip hop says that you're supposed to do. And that's when my manager hit me to Malcolm Gladwell's book in which he said, 'You guys sort of spread like a germ without major hype, without a label cramming it down your throat, without the radio stations playing you umpteen times. So, that's the theory behind 'The Tipping Point'. But really I named it so you could ask me why did I name it 'The Tipping Point'?
"See this is how a good artist is. If he can come up with an angle..." Ahmir pauses once more and brings another ?uestlove fact to our attention: "Most journalists will ask seven questions. If you ever leave it up to a journalist to conduct your story, you're in trouble. So what you have to do is create questions. Yeah, I'm telling you the truth again... Hey, my publicist tapped me on my shoulder, I've got to wrap it up in 15 minutes. Hahaha!" Ahmir is referring to some of the previous experiences we've had at BLAG.
"Hahaha! It's funny. No, I'm just making an observation that all your cover subjects' publicists don't know that you're the greatest magazine ever."
Incidentally, it seems he likes to be referred to as Thompson in features - note to Ahmir: I tried to go with Thompson, but couldn't, there was something about it that made me feel like your English Lit tutor. Apologies.
Anyway, it's been a while since we last met, four albums and a variety of production work. Who have you worked with and what's been the best experience?
"Excuse me! This is album number seven," he splutters.
No! Since we first met in '97...
"Oh, OK. Wow. You know who my favourite person to work with is? Jay-Z. I worked with him for the challenge of it, but at the end of the day, he was the least high-horsed. So Jay was the coolest and not because he was a pushover like, 'Listen to me,' and... 'Hey OK. This is how I want it and this is how it's going to be.'
"It wasn't like that, there was some things that I did that he was like 'Whatever.' At the end of the day he is the least high maintenance and that means a lot. You'll get better results from me if you are not high maintenance.
The full interview appears in BLAG Vol.2 Nø 2
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Theme: Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved by Sally A. Edwards & Sarah J. Edwards
Gloss laminate cover, 100 pages, original photography and stories, heavy weight satin paper, 245mm x 303mm ISSN: 1366-4552 12
Spend some time with:
Beastie Boys (photoshoot includes the original Awesome! shot and hands down our funniest BLAG interview), Tom Hardy (his first ever BLAG feature, in his words, self-portraits), INTRODUCING... Head Automatica, David Fischer, Miguel Calderón, Essay: GZA, Talib Kweli, ?uestlove of The Roots, Art: Phil Frost, Jasper Goodall, Yacht Associates, Beauty: Colours, Fashion: Spring, It’s Your Thing, Film: The Life Aquatic, Ten Essential Tips To Improve Yourself by Tobias Wong, City Guide: Tokyo by Nigo of A Bathing Ape / BAPE
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