I’ve written a few times about the kinship I feel with Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson; music historian, drummer and conceptual leader of The Legendary Roots Crew, wearer of fine T-shirts. After years of reading Roots liner notes and wondering when Questo would actually write a book, the day is finally here. Mo’ Meta Blues doesn’t disappoint, and even though the year isn’t even half over yet, I can say it’ll probably be my favorite music-related book of 2013 when all is said and done; which is to say it’ll probably be my favorite book of 2013 period. I don’t read much else. Don’t worry, I’m not altogether proud of that fact. Anyway…
Meta is part memoir, part Roots history, part Questlove’s True Hollywood Stories, part music nerd geek-out. Ahmir has a pretty unique vantage point in the musical world-he’s a member of a very exclusive club as a hip-hop instrumentalist. He was an instrumental (pun intended) part of the neo-soul/boho hip-hop scene that started in the mid Nineties and is at least partially responsible for the successes of everyone from D’Angelo, Jill Scott and Erykah Badu to Talib Kweli, Common and Kanye West. He’s now the musical director for “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” which has put him on a bigger pedestal for reasons good (awesome viral videos) and bad (Michelle Bachmann/”Lyin’ Ass Bitch.”) Even before he was “Questlove,” Ahmir’s dad was touring the country as “Lee Andrews” of Lee Andrews & the Hearts, and a young Ahmir was doing everything from playing drums to arranging the light setup. So, as you can imagine, there are lots of places to pull stories from.
How does Ahmir give those stories the continuity that a book requires? Well, “Mo’ Meta Blues” is laid out in chronological fashion, but where that might be boring in the hands of a less engaging figure, Quest spices it up with asides including lists of the most influential records of each year (up until the Roots “broke,”) and he also invites other voices into the fray, specifically co-author Ben Greenman and formidable Roots manager Richard Nichols, who should probably write a book of his own.
If you are a music fan, this book is a must-have. Never mind whether you’re a fan of Questlove or The Roots (even though you should be.) Want the perspective of someone who bought Prince’s “1999” more than half a dozen times? Read the book. Want to know what kind of roller skates Prince wears? Read the book. Want to know how gutted Questlove was by the deaths of J. Dilla and Michael Jackson? Read the book. Want to know why The Roots’ move to Interscope Records almost broke the band up and why Questlove isn’t fond of The Tipping Point? I disagree with him, but it’s in the book. Want great Afro maintenance tips? Not in the book, but you should read the book anyway.
Bottom line: “Mo’ Meta Blues” was all I expected and then some. I hope this is only the beginning of a series of books written by one of the foremost authorities on black music, and music in general.