Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson is the producer/drummer in the Roots. He's also a hero of mine, full of a loving, inventive energy and interested in everything. I discovered his blog today and found this post that just kicked my ass. You know how when you have those moments where you're feeling correct, clean and complete in the face of the universe in yourself? When you're lit up with your own direction and temporarily honest about how much you do, truly, care and about what you do, truly, care about? This is ?uestlove having one of those moments after somebody posted a fragment (just 45 seconds!) of an old Stevie Wonder demo, of a song he had never heard and which just busted him up. He is wracked with the sense that black music went wrong and how bad he wants to make it right. (If anybody could do it, it's him...)
Below are my favorite parts of his beautiful, unhinged rant. The whole thing is immaculate and right-on (with more passion than grammatical precision) - and the part about his school teacher using a Stevie Wonder album to teach his class to love music will make you cry - but this has to be the finest thing he said: "When the goal is winning, and not changing lives, there is a mighty price to pay."
Yesterday on okayplayer a 45 second snippet of a 1974 Stevie Wonder throwaway was posted and prompted many of us to keep this shit on repeat for a good 7 hours…..it left me feeling elated and sad at the same time. and then it just left me crazy and mad….
i am mad as fuck yo.
1. this shit is under a minute (whoever has that track got the whole shit and need to share that shit not just some “let them eat cake” and give portions.)
2. but then im like listening to this shit as a real song like 4 hours in a row which then makes me a lil crazy.
3. driving to our show yesterday at ucla i put a friend on to this shit and now she listening to this shit hours and hours and hours in a row.
4. now everybody thinks we crazy for listening to a 45 second snippet tape but then the shit spreads like the plot to the video for Radiohead’s “Just”.
im in a corner all hypnotized on my “cant believe this shit” position–and then some nosey cat wanna know what im listening to…and i warn em “just walk away yo…cause you will just be more frustrated”–
and then seconds later they too are like “i cant stop listening to this”
—-im mad because this song had the potential to change my life. these damn chord changes. — like as a musician there are some stevie songs that are etched in my brain just like a tattoo. and it effects everything i do on a hidden level – "love having you around" effects the way i treat hi hats…."all day sucker" (along with bonzo from zepplin) effects the way i now use ride cymbals as crashes…journey though the secret life of plants for some young black folks their …maybe first or second experience with a “concept album”—i mean steve’s shit is life changing.
but damnit this song makes me wanna do some call to action shit to those involved in the music industry. like some malcolm x “i wanna bring charges to…..for being the…..of the industry”
i mean there was a point in life in which hip hop REALLY did this to me.
i call it “quincy jones’ goosebump moments” (he explained that the process of making albums with michael jackson was “does this give us goosebumps everytime we hit ‘playback’? good! its ready for the public”
why am i not getting this feeling no more? i know good and damn well why….but i want EVERYBODY to know why….
we can’t afford to no more. as in who is gonna make art records in the age of survival?
simply put….because the 96 model has taken over the entire music industry (the winners won…..the have nots were thrown away to rot and die)—and when the goal is winning. and not changing lives there is a mighty price to pay.[there was a huge rant here about how the record industry fucked it all up]
there was a time when music truly TRULY gave me goosebumps:
(goes into the wayback machine)
lil 5 year old ahmir having anxiety issues with this new experience called “school”. his parents are dropping him off and leaving him with these other kids…the hell is this?!?! there are scary art structures and clay monsters and paint everywhere…..older kids abusing their instruments in some violent way ive never seen before (real talk on the first day of school….only to find out these kids where playing “Freebird” –the second part–….seeing students walking around with long sticks waving back and forward on the ground and wearing dark sunglasses, asking older students with heavy shaking syndromes if they bite…i mean how dare they! im 5 years old. i never heard a russian accent before, or seen a blind person, or anyone with cerebal palsy, or the scary clamation flims of bill plympton—or even knew of the existence of an orange album that looks like the sun and some donuts had a child together and put stevie wonder smack dap in the middle of it. some fancy cursive writing in the middle and now this is my very first homework assignment:
“have your mommy and daddy buy you a copy of “Songs In The Key Of Life”…..
that entire week ms Lewin explored all 4 sides of the record: started off with side four first.
“these are African traditional Zulu lyrics he is singing…..does anyone know what language this is?……that’s right Angel its called Spanish…..”
“does anyone know what this instrument is?……its called a Harp….has anyone seen this before?”
next day was side one
“does anyone here know what “harmony” means…this is an example of harmony when multi voices sing the same parts different ways.”
“this particular song is in 5/4 meter……but then switches to a different meter….who knows what meter is?”
“these are pictures of all the people that he mentions in this particular song….does anyone know what Jazz is?”
“hahahaha no crystal i don’t think your mom and dad can record the sounds of your new baby brother or sister coming into the world……that requires alot of technology…”
“this song’s main goal is to teach the cultural importance of the achievements of the world’s inventors and scientists and explorers…..—-i dont know why he did ask this class to be a part of the song’s end refrain ahmir…..”
—-i mean you get the point. this shit was eye opening! she was sharing this stuff with us like we were adults!!!—we all sat in front of the stereo mesmerized—and thus started the process and addiction that i have had for the last 32 years.
analyzing and dissecting music.
when you had night before vigils about some shit coming out (the last time was the last great day in hip hop for me….oct 93 the day Wu Tang and Tribe came out on same day)
and when you cut school to get some shit (fear of a black planet)
or when you quit your job to devote more time to an album (nation of millions)
or you commit a crime and steal an album (well…at the time i worked at sam goody) (3 feet high and rising)
or you starve yourself of lunch to save enough money to buy it (1999)
or you shovel an entire block of snow to earn it (parade)
or you get yo worst ass whupping for trying to impress a girl so you steal money for it (rick springfield’s Working Class Dog)
or you almost break your group up cause you know your partner done went in your bag and stole yours (Fantastic Vol 1)
or you buy 25 people within armslength a copy in the wrecka stow (The Listening)
or you purchase it on the day of the apocalypse (The Blueprint)
or you get into it so Onecca will slow drag with you at the halloween dance in the 8th grade (Debarge’s In A Special Way)
those were goosebump moments.
this 45 second reminder just tells me that in 2008?
our goose is cooked.