This guy thinks so much about music he's devoured reviews since he was eight. As a kid he made a mind game of predicting "Rolling Stone" grades in advance, complete with supporting rationale.
As is also clear from "Mo' Meta Blues," this phenomenally intelligent 42-year-old is in most things an autodidact, the exception being one you wouldn't figure from a be-Afroed galoot who prefers hoodies and T-shirts to the suits he wears on TV. To wit: Questlove is a showbiz kid.
His father was a doowop stalwart who, after his boutique went under in the late '60s, built a family nightclub act on the nascent oldies circuit. Financially, it was a living, nothing more. But in addition to preparing Questlove for the trying life of a touring musician – pre-Fallon, the Roots were getting up to 200 gigs a year – growing up on the road broadened young Ahmir in a way unknown to the kids in his West Philly hood or even at CAPA, the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, a monument to public education that just in Ahmir's time generated the seminal Boyz II Men and jazz standard-bearers Christian McBride, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Joey DeFrancesco. I
t was at CAPA that nerdy Ahmir met streetwise Tariq Trotter, who as lead rapper Black Thought has been Questlove's partner in the Roots since before Tariq bestowed that name on them.
In a world where there are many more rock memoirs than anyone dare read, my own perusing, skimming, and gossiping indicate that three stand out as literature: Bob Dylan's, Patti Smith's, and Richard Hell's. But several hip-hop entries are strikingly competitive – formally adventurous, multi-vocal. Aided by Ghostwritah Chris Norris, the RZA's 2005 "The Wu-Tang Manual" begins with solid character sketches of the nine original Wu-Tang Clan members and devotes 50 pages to close readings of various Wu gods' lyrics. With who knows how much advice from Dream Hampton, Jay-Z's 2010 "Decoded" toggles back and forth chronologically and drops key info and insight in footnote-sized glosses on the many lyrics it "decodes."