To say Jay-Z is a man of many talents is an understatement. One of Hov's lesser-known assets, though, is his keen memory: He hasn't written down a single lyric since penning his first album, Reasonable Doubt, a decade ago.
But Roots drummer Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, who's acting as musical director for Jay's Reasonable Doubt 10th anniversary show Sunday at New York's Radio City Music Hall, says Hov should think about implementing a backup plan for the show. Especially since he'll be performing several records for the first time as he renders the album in its entirety — another first (see "Jay-Z To Perform Show Commemorating 10th Anniversary of Reasonable Doubt").
"Unless you do [the songs] night after night, there's a chance you could forget [the lyrics]," Thompson said. "In [Jay's] case, I'm suggesting — I've seen Springsteen do it, R.E.M. do it, Bowie do it — I'm suggesting that [there] be a teleprompter. There are too many words in '22 Two's' [and] 'Regrets.' Right now he's playing the album over and over again, learning words. He says he's gonna know everything.
"I've seen many an MC forget a song," ?uest added. "Nas forgot 'The World Is Yours' [during our recent show at Radio City]. To me, being onstage and performing your material is the equivalent to training and working out. You physically have to do that stuff over and over. I've been in jam sessions with Prince and we've started songs of his that were our life staples and he was like, 'I forgot those lyrics.' Me and D'Angelo played 'The Ballad of Dorothy Parker' and [Prince] forgot the bridge. That's one of the greatest bridges in modern black music. How do you forget the bridge to 'Ballad of Dorothy Parker'? We did 'Liquid Swords' with GZA last week in L.A. and he was like, 'I only know the first verse.' "
But even with Hov's memory in question, Thompson says he has bigger concerns about the Radio City show, namely how they're going to pull off "Ain't No N---a," which features Foxy Brown — who's suffering from severe hearing loss (see "Foxy Brown Says She Hasn't Heard A Thing For Six Months") — and "Bring It On," which boasts Jay's estranged friends Jaz-O and Sauce Money. For "Brooklyn's Finest," which features the late great Notorious B.I.G., Thompson says they'll have a "slight trick."
" 'Bring It On' [has] my favorite [DJ] Premier loop," Thompson said of the record he's most looking forward to performing. "The problem is it's a posse cut. [Who knows what's going on with] Jaz-O and Sauce Money. I don't want to cut one verse of that song. That is my favorite song on Reasonable Doubt. I gotta figure out a way to prolong it. Make [Jay] bust a second verse or something.
"This show, I will say that this is gonna be a challenge," he continued. "It's sort of like doing a magic trick when you have to destroy a building and [then] that building is demolished. You've got one shot. We're gonna do a very different approach. Yes, we're gonna do Reasonable Doubt. But the question is, how are we gonna do it? I got my work cut out [for me]."
Thompson is anticipating that the Reasonable Doubt show will pan out a lot more successfully than the Roots' two nights at Radio City last month (see "Nas, Common, Badu Join Roots For First Radio City Show"). Raekwon and Ghostface Killah were unexplained no-shows at the first one.
"I'm dismayed we got some of the harshest criticism we've ever gotten for the first show," ?uest said. "We got beat up in the press. But you know, after re-reading their reviews, I now know what the problem is: We're kinda being brought to fire because we're not celebrities. If you're not celebrities, you're boring. If you're boring, it doesn't make good press. I reviewed the tapes and listened to it. I personally didn't find anything wrong with night number one. But I understand because of the buildup and 'the surprise,' yadda, yadda ... I now know to never overhype an event we do, publicly.
"If you don't deliver," he added, "it's diminished returns. Now night two [of our Radio City shows] lived up to all its hype because the artists that were invited to be involved in night two actually showed up. If the two missing guests would have showed up for night one, then I would assume that the press would have been kinder to us. Then, that's like, they weren't judging the performance, they were judging the star power of the night. That said, if you are looking for star power or Us Weekly material, then I'm sorry, the Roots are just not for you."
?uest says he still hasn't heard from Raekwon and Ghost but has no harsh feelings toward them. ?uest and the Roots drop their new LP, Game Theory, in late August (see "President Jay-Z's Latest Act: The Roots Ink With Def Jam").