Q&A: Questlove on Winning Three Grammys, the Glory of Esperanza Spalding, and Having His Parties Closed Out By Bill Murray


You’d think between the tapings of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, being shuttled from to gig to gig, and freaking out at Prince concerts, it’d be hard to pin down Questlove for 15 minutes, but it was surprisingly painless. We caught up with the Roots’ drummer and resident hip-hop historian at the new monthly “Rock Freak” party at the Hudson Hotel, where we got his reaction to winning three Grammys, learned that Bill Murray is a fan, and talked his weekly residency at Brooklyn Bowl. There is also, perhaps, a burgeoning affection for Juliette Lewis. Read on.

What’s the one thing that sticks out to you about winning this week at the Grammys?

[Pauses] I can’t complain anymore. It’s kind of bittersweet. Because it’s like – I still feel like the underdog. [Maybe] we’re just passive aggressive, insatiable musicians by nature. The night before I was definitely mentally preparing myself as I’ve done with every Grammy show. “Let yourself down, you know this is Outkast’s year.” My only concerns were: do we look good on those five seconds, is my angle good? I’ve gotta fight for the outer seat because every time Tariq and Kamal make me sit on the inside. I just wanted to make sure we looked good on camera because I knew we wasn’t gonna ever ever walk on stage. When we won, I said, “Oh, my God, we have two. And then we had three. Now we have four. It’s just like, where’s this coming from? I’m happy.

Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff didn’t get to go on stage. So maybe it’s like some sort of Philly badge of honor?

I just wanted to collect the award and get off before they had a recount [laughs]. I was just like yo, let me get this shit before they’re like, “Oh, we’re sorry, Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers!” That’s what I was thinking in my head. Until it’s in my hand, I’m always thinking it’s a fluke. The first year we won there’s no way you’re going to tell me that Dr. Dre and Eminem and Snoop and Puffy and R. Kelly and Janet Jackson and Busta Rhymes were going to lose to us. It took seven A-list household names to sort of shoot each other Reservoir Dogs style. It was like a Mexican standoff. Dre was in it twice with Eminem and Snoop so he canceled himself out. Puffy, R. Kelly, Janet and Busta kinda shot each other. Remember the donut robbery scene in Boogie Nights? When Don Cheadle’s wearing the white suit and he’s got blood all over him and he’s like, “I’m still alive!” That’s how it was to me. I would like to think maybe John Legend’s a favorite amongst the voters, so maybe they just went with that.

The most effective part of the night was performing for an hour after the Grammys at the after party, and all of the Academy members were there to watch it. I definitely feel as though they really got to see us in our element. Not in five second skits on Fallon. Or, “Oh, yeah, the Erykah Badu song, I like that song.” No. They really got to see a bona fide, hour Roots show. So if there was any doubt before to whether we could live up to our reputation, we proved it that night. It took 20 years, but we got here. I guess we’re going through our Chuck Berry phase. He was more popular in the ’70s with the kids of his core audience in the ’50s. I’m fine with that.

You were pretty excited about Esperanza Spalding.

Man. I felt like I won. When they announced her, the collective gasp in the room…us, B.o.B, Janelle [Monae] just stood up and said, “HOLY SHIT! Really?” That was the greatest moment ever. On Twitter today, Frenchie Davis said, you not knowing Esperanza Spalding doesn’t make her a nobody, it just shows how musically ignorant you are. But I’m very proud of her. Just the fact that — she’s the youngest professor at Berklee at 24. She’s my inspiration. When I first met her, and she’s like, “Yeah, I practice everyday for five hours.” I was like “God, I don’t even do that anymore.” Those days are gone. She makes me want to practice!

Who’s the most interesting celebrity you met at the Grammys? And you’ve definitely going back for All-Star weekend, right?

I’m doing Kobe’s party.


Well, I work for Nike, so that was an easy shoe-in. But – I didn’t know that Juliette Lewis was so B-boyish. We’ve talked in passing and she’s been on the show but her mid-80s and early 90s hip-hop knowledge is incredible. As for tonight, I’ll be extremely shocked if Bill Murray doesn’t make a cameo.

Bill Murray?

I don’t know if you know this, but Bill Murray has a reputation for just randomly showing up at basement parties in Brooklyn. He came to one of my Christmas parties at S.O.B.s, and Bill Murray was like one of the last people nine left. You know, that play that last song and there’s nine people? I’m looking and thinking, “Nah, that’s not him.” But it was him!

He did this in a movie theater once. One of our production design people was at a movie theater. And this arm reaches up into her popcorn. And his favorite line is, “They’ll never believe you.” Then he walked away [laughs]. He’s known to do that. I’ve heard sightings of Bill Murray at Williamsburg basement keg parties. He’s showed up to four or five of my DJ dates.

How did you get involved with the Rock Freak party?

Basically [Rock Freak’s DJ Cassidy] and I crossed paths. He’s done a lot of parties, I’ve done lot of parties. And he told me he’d been itching to have a Manhattan residency for — he hadn’t had one in about nine years. Since like 2000. I’ve sort of been resisting doing a Manhattan party because I figured that for me to really do my dream party, it would take a lot of convincing of the public. I don’t wanna be too throwback, but I also wanna be quality. You know? Like it’s more important for me that the people that come here trust what we play. Things that might seem regular to us could be new to them. You know what I mean? And that doesn’t even mean — I don’t want this to be a thing where it’s like uber-exclusive and were not playing commercial stuff. I’m about playing everything, I think, DJs right now, they don’t play variety. They play what’s hitting, what’s hot. “If the audience responds to it, no matter what the quality is, I’ll play it.” But I believe a DJ’s s real mission should be to show variety. So basically, in him found we found a kind of kindred spirit that–he’s a guy that’s done a lot of high profile events, but it starts with the music. That’s why I wanted to go with it.

So the Brooklyn Bowl party is right in your wheelhouse.

Brooklyn Bowl is my woodshed. That’s the place in which I’ll test anything. And it’s now to the point now where I can kind of get away with murder [laughs]. Not get away with murder, but – that is my testing ground to see what I can work with and what I can’t. Mostly on Sundays, that record collection I have in my room, that’s the day that I spend listening to music for about five to six hours. I’ll go record shopping – on a successful Sunday I’ll find 20 new songs that are playable and then I’ll test them at Brooklyn Bowl. And if it works it works. Here, there’s more pressure. And it’s a monthly. So I’d rather come with my A-game at a monthly. You know, if it were a weekly then I’d feel more free to put on Conway Twitty and mix it with Fela. [laughs] But that’s something I’d do in Brooklyn.

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