It is easy to forget that when DJ’s first came on the scene, they weren’t synonymous with electronic based dance music, laser light shows, and jam packed arenas. Back then they were not so tied to one genre and instead made it a point to include as many as they could in their sets, which meant they had to be not just fans of music themselves, but students of it. The knowledge they would attain from digging through the crates they would consciously try to impart to the dancing masses; to teach them without them ever knowing it about new experiences, cultures, and worlds. Til this day, the best DJs will tell you that is something they still do. Unfortunately, when considering just how many DJs there are these days, it is sad that so few of them want to teach much of anything. This leads to a dumbing down and narrowing of the masses collective taste and experiences. And that is not a good thing. Thankfully, there is a DJ that is leading the charge and could very well teach anyone interested in the craft of DJing what being a DJ is really about. His name is Questlove and I sure hope the youth is listening. He is an actual professor after all!

Questlove aka ?uestlove was born Ahmir Khalib Thompson in the city of Brotherly love, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1971. Both his parents were accomplished music artists. His father, Lee Andrews headed up his own doo-wop band named Lee Andrews & the Hearts. Together with his wife Jacqui Andrews, they would go on to form their own group named Congress Alley. Not willing to leave their son with a baby sitter as they toured the country, they took the young Ahmir with them. Everywhere. The music undoubtedly rubbed off on him and by the age of seven he was already performing on drums live on stage. By 13, he was serving as musical director! Yes, you heard correctly, musical director. Kinda knocks the mastering of that sync button down a few notches wouldn’t you say?

By the time Ahmir graduated high school he was already heading up his own band The Square Roots, eventually becoming just The Roots, with his high school friend and lyrical genius Tariq Trotter aka Black Thought and Jay Lonick. The small trio would perform on the streets of Philly, with Quest and Lonick playing drums on plastic buckets, bottles, crates, and shopping carts. The group would eventually grow to include more members and in 1993 dropped their first album ‘Organix‘ on Relativity Records. In 1995 they released ‘Do You Want More?!!!??!’ and ‘Illadelph Halflife’ in 1996.

In 1998, The Roots put out a sweet tune titled ‘You Got Me’ featuring Erykah Badu. It was an instant must have in any music lovers (notice I didn’t say just Hip Hop lovers) collection. It would go on to spur their next album, the monumental ‘Things Fall Apart’ and earn the band their first GRAMMY Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for 2000! Needless to say Questlove’s career took off after that and thus began the career of one of the most talented producers of this century.

Over the last two decades Quest has produced for the likes of Common, Jay-Z, John Legend, D’Angelo, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Bilal, Al Green, Amy Winehouse, Elvis Costello, co produced the theme to VH1’s 2007 Hip Hop Honors. Quest, who placed 8th in the Rolling Stone Readers Pick for Best Drummers of all Time, has played on projects for Dilated Peoples, Christina Aguilera, Joss Stone, John Mayer, Zap Mama, even ESPN’s Monday Night Football theme song, and loads more. He also served as musical director for all the band portions of Jay-Z’s Fade to Black concert and associate producer of the hit Broadway play Fela!. The Roots continue putting out great material including thier album ‘Phrenology‘ and their new album ‘..and then you shoot your cousin.‘ Of course, as you sure as hell should know, The Roots are currently the house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

Quest is also an author having published his own book Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove, and has been a brand ambassador for the likes of Microsoft, Motorola, and even designed not one, but two of his own official Nike shoes!

But now, back to the music. Because at the end of the nite, that is what it’s all about. If you recall, I mentioned that Questlove is a professor. He was what you call a celebrity professor; usually it’s one class for a limited time, but something not every celebrity is cut out to do. Questlove fits the role better than most. Probably just as good as real deal tenured professors. His class was at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute for Recorded Music at the Tisch School of the Arts and was called “Classic Albums.” In it, Questlove would dig deep into the crates and pull out gems that have stood the test of time and go in depth as to why, share insight into an artists state of mind, and otherwise school his students on the deeper and often times hidden stories and meanings behind the music we love.

You might not be able to be a student of his any longer at NYU, but you can still be a student of his. Just study his works and his work ethic, learn from his various endeavors and projects, and make sure to catch him when he spins live whether at his Las Vegas residency at the famed Hakkasan or anytime he drops by Brooklyn and elsewhere. After all, there is simply no better teacher for DJs than Questlove and no better class than the dance floor, where it all began to begin with.


R.I.P Richard Nichols, longtime manager of The Roots who passed away after a long battle with leukemia. Nichols was 55.