The Roots' ?uestlove

The Roots' ?uestlove
Speaking to ?uestlove (government name Ahmir Thompson) on location just a couple of hours before the recent Toronto concert, one gets the feeling that success doesn’t hinge on whether eighth studio album Rising Down is a boon or bust commercially. Rising Down is comparable to Things Fall Apart in terms of "let this shit marinade in your mental” type status. Tracks "Rising Down” and "Rising Up” bookend an opinionated opus laden with riffs on social tribulations and global ignorance – while proving that Black Thought is perhaps the most slept on emcee ever. More than a decade into the game, ?uestlove definitely seems sanguine, even as the band unleash the self-described "politically dark, synthy, electric” record onto a perhaps ill-prepared masses.

You’ve been quoted as saying Rising Down is perhaps the most political charged album you guys have put out. Why is that?
There’s reason why I say this is the most politically charged. Sometimes I think people construe being politically correct as being political. It’s like when some praise Barack Obama for being "so articulate.” The thing is, a lot of the times, because people have such a lack of understanding, we hear, "I don’t like rap music, but I like you guys.” That to me is not a compliment… I don’t like the woefully ignorant.

Do you at this stage in the game start thinking about your overall impact and legacy on the hip-hop game?
Oh, definitely. Especially in terms of how we get written in the history books. Each record is like our children – and none are alike. Each album has its own identity. This is definitely our hardest, sonic-hitting message album. We entered the game at a time when emceeing was a sport in terms of upholding what we felt was true hip-hop. Just because we don’t shoot guns and deal drugs… they must be politically correct. But then it comes down to how long are we going to talk about our lyrical prowess? We take our first baby steps with Phrenology and The Tipping Point but I think with this album we took it here. And I think that, after this year, the political climate is going to change so much that it’s probably the last time we can say stuff like this.

Why didn’t "Birthday Girl” get released as the first single?
Despite what the internet is saying, there really just wasn’t a place for it thematically. Is seemed anticlimactic putting it in there, like a sore thumb. But I think that situation speaks to our greatest strength, we are objective enough to know that if something just isn’t going to work, we’re not going to force the issue.

How do the Roots define success in a ringtone and single-based market?
We’ve basically given up on the 106 & Park crowd. Even though a lot of people say we’re more Kanye and Common than Soulja Boy, we really have to understand that in terms of delivering product to people, many can’t separate their admiration from someone’s lifestyle. It is what it is and it makes us work five times harder. It’s not that we’ve given up… right now we really don’t have a lifestyle and if we did it’s not a popular one. Being political is not a lifestyle. But then it’s like "why do it?” But it’s more like "why not?”

What’s next on deck for the Roots?
We’re already three songs into the next project. Part of me really wants to go back to ground zero and do an Organix-type record – no overproducing, no studio trickery, just press record and play. The other part of me wants to go into stuff that may get us into trouble with our fan base. We’re in a weird space right now. Remember that stage in Super Mario Bros. where it’s just Mario in a room with a lot of coins and you’ve got to collect them? But now the record industry is falling apart. Now all of a sudden that coin room, there’s like 17 other Marios in there fighting for those coins. But that only makes us work harder. But I really want people to know that Rising Down is really an example of what classic hip-hop truly is.