The Roots’ ?uestlove Recalls Jay-Z Farewell Show; Hopes To Inspire Young Musicians

Drummer wishes there were more young black musicians forming bands.

For a band renowned for its live show, the Roots sure are spending a lot of time in the studio.

The group was in the lab for the first part of 2004 working on The Tipping Point (which was released in July), and it’ll get cracking on its seventh studio album at the start of 2005. Tentatively titled The Game Theory, the LP is likely to hit stores by the end of next summer, according to drummer Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson.

In the coming months, ?uestlove will be working again with Common on the rapper’s new LP, Be (see “Common Lets It Be On Upcoming Down-Home Album” ), which he described as “a return to [Common's] former self.” ?uestlove is also working with a new artist, a female singer named Donn, and has resumed his duties as music supervisor of “Chappelle’s Show.”

As the music supervisor for Jay-Z’s “farewell concert” at Madison Square Garden last year, he also took on that title for “Fade to Black,” the just-released documentary about the show (see “Usher, Linkin Park, Kanye Walk The Black Carpet For Jay-Z” ).

While ?uestlove calls the concert “a night of so many highs,” it was actually the two weeks of rehearsals leading up to it that were most memorable.

“Going through so many songs that never made it [to the concert's final setlist], that was fun!” ?uestlove said. “I was like, ‘Can we do “Coming of Age”?’ The whole Reasonable Doubt record [is] somewhere in those rehearsal tapes. We did ‘Bring it On.’ Man, if he would have let us get away with that! ‘Regrets,’ ‘Friend or Foe.’ He just wanted to hit ‘em with the hits, though, so I was trying to figure out ways to fit ‘em in there.

“Some things we got away with,” ?uestlove continued. “At the end of ‘Dirt Off Your Shoulder,’ we got to do one verse of ‘It’s Hot.’ The light-hearted atmosphere made it that much more cool. And Jay was singing the whole [of Outkast's] The Love Below album in rehearsals. He was doing verses in the voice of Chuck D or KRS-One. At the end of the day, he’s a [music] nerd like I am.”

?uestlove’s favorite moment of the actual concert was one where he snuck in an old favorite: During the second verse of “Song Cry,” he led his Illadelphonics band through the music of Biggie’s “Me and My Bitch.”

“Puff, Dame [Dash], a whole bunch of cats were on the side of the stage, and Puff was like [excitedly], ‘What the hell you doin’!’ ” ?uestlove said. “Jay always told me, ‘Give me accessories. Let’s not just make the burger. The best thing is the onions, the condiments.’ He’s like, ‘Let’s mix it up.’ Even though it was only 12 bars, it was the best 12 bars of music for me that year.”

?uestlove’s hope is that other rappers will appreciate those moments and be inspired to expand their musical scope.

“People still don’t know the infinite possibilities of a band,” he said. “What’s very unfortunate is the Roots are [one of] the only [groups] of black musicians on a major label. That could be seen as an honor, but it baffles me. I don’t want to be a novelty. Twenty years ago, groups made records: the Commodores, War, Con Funk Shun, the J.B.’s, Brass Construction. Now if any band were to start, it’d be like, ‘Man, they just biting the Roots.’ And that’s a problem.”

There are “a million” other live hip-hop bands out there, ?uestlove said — you just have to know how to find them.

“It’s one mouse click away — the Internet,” he said. “If Ghostface knew what I knew, he’d be in L.A. looking for Breakestra. They are the only band that has caused me to lose sleep. They play those old funk records, and this is the kind of thing Ghostface has been wanting to do his whole life, but he don’t know. And I know because I am on the Internet. Cats gotta stay informed. It’s like reading the newspaper.”

For more on “Fade to Black,” check out “Jay-Z: Fade To The Black Sessions.”