I’m going to confess up front that I’m not a fan of rap and know little to nothing of hip hop, musical genres that came to the fore in the 1990s and are the milieu of Questlove and his band The Roots. But I know who Questlove is, having seen him on Chappelle Show (which I never missed) and The Jimmy Fallon Show. He has always looked like a pretty cool dude and when I read reviews of his book, he sounded really interesting, too. I imagine for music aficionados, this book will be an absolute trove of great artists and their work, perhaps a trip down memory lane or an introduction to great stuff you missed. As someone who isn’t tapped into all that (I had to look up a lot of Quest’s references on YouTube), it was still a really interesting memoir. Questlove and his friend/Roots manager Rich Nichols (who gets to have his say in footnotes) are intellectuals. Quest is an introspective person, interested in collaboration, supporting new artists while giving props to past artists on whose creativity he wishes to build.
Questlove is a Philly native and comes from a musical family. Much of his personal history is woven throughout the book, so while there is some chronological family history and education history (all very interesting and told with love, respect and honesty), some other information comes out in the course of telling other stories. The memoir’s set-up is cool. The telling is very self-aware (I’m telling my story but letting my best friend respond to it in case my view isn’t completely accurate or so we can all see another perspective on the same events). The associate writer, Ben Greenman, also gets to have his voice heard through the emails he sent to his boss about the project. Given that Questlove is a fan of collaboration, having his memoir so obviously a collaboration among talented and creative minds is both fitting and informative. Questlove tries to live what he believes.
Questlove’s life has been pretty interesting. His father and mother were both musicians, and Quest and his sister went on tour with the band and eventually became part of it. He attended arts and/or religious based schools, ultimately attending high school at CAPA, where he met his friend Tariq (aka Black Thought) and started what would become The Roots. I certainly learned a lot about the music industry, particularly the history of the 1990s rap/hip hop scene and its rivalries. I enjoyed reading about Quest’s musical interests, which are eclectic. He is a huge fan of the Beach Boys and tells some funny stories about having to hide certain albums from his parents. (They especially disapproved of Prince.) I am a sucker for the stories about meeting his idols, such as KISS when he was 7 years old and Prince when he was an adult. And he also gives his side of the Michele Bachmann/”Lyin’ Ass Bitch” controversy from Fallon’s show.
One of the revelations that really knocked me for a loop comes early in the memoir and has not been discussed in the reviews I’ve seen. Quest reveals that when he was little, his parents took him in for some sort of behavioral evaluation. He says, “I wasn’t a normal kid…. The concern was about my personality, which seemed eccentric. I don’t think ‘autistic’ was a common term back then, but I later found out that they had taken me to a doctor to see if something was really wrong.” Quest was obsessed with circles and spinning objects (like turntables) and developed a fascination/obsession with music (and Rolling Stone album ratings) that has served him well in his professional life. I don’t know if he really has autism, but the way he and his family managed his “eccentric” behavior is pretty cool and a good example to parents like me who have kids on the spectrum.
It would be a mistake to pass over Mo’ Meta Blues because you aren’t interested in Questlove’s particular brand of music. This is a fine memoir in its own right. I found it inspirational and informative. This would be a great read for mature teens interested in music and the industry, too. It’ll show how you succeed while keeping hold of your soul.