Tag Archives: Questlove

A Super Tuesday Reading List

The presidential primary season, when we pick the candidates who will compete for our nation’s highest office, is inevitably among the dumbest times in our history. And while we’re not historians, it’s a safe bet that 2016 is among the dumbest we have seen. Today is Super Tuesday, when multiple states cast their votes in this spectacle of our shame, so to smarten up the place a bit, we decided to recommend a few books to the supporters of the various candidates.  We want everyone to have an opportunity to tune out the [unintelligible yelling] and enjoy some good reading.

Hillary Clinton

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Books that Mattered in 2013: Mo’ Meta Blues

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Earlier this month, Time magazine named Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson The Coolest Person of 2013. The award confirms a truth universally acknowledged: that everybody loves Questlove. This in itself is a notable phenomenon in our day and age. Who else can you say that about? Not Obama. For damn sure not Kanye. Maybe John Stewart or Stephen Colbert? Maybe. Even Mandela has his detractors. But for sure everybody loves Questlove. Even the people who were mad at him about that whole Michelle Bachman thing were really just disappointed that someone they love so much had been rude to a guest.

If you had told me a decade ago that America would want to be friends with a 6’4”, 300 pound black man from an experimental Philly hip hop group — a guy who used to spell his name with an actual question mark — I might have doubted your foresight. But it happened. And this book helps explain how. Quest’s story is neither bricks nor billboard, exactly. It’s more fun and less gritty than a coming-up-tough narrative, propelled instead by Ahmir Thompson’s vocation, which is to make more of the music he loves. Mo’ Meta Blues is vital simply for the catalog of tracks it exposed people to this year.

But there’s more to it than that. A recurring tension in the book centers on the racial/cultural boundaries and expectations surrounding certain kinds of work. Early on, Questlove talks about his closeted childhood love of the Beach Boys, saying “You couldn’t look like me and be black in West Philadelphia and love the Beach Boys the way I did.” These are the kinds of walls that artists like The Roots have helped topple in the last decade and a half, which is a bigger deal than it may seem, since it makes it much easier to knock down a whole host of other arbitrary boundaries our society has simply outgrown. (The 54% of 18 to 29-year-old white voters who supported Barack Obama in 2008 grew up on hip hop and The Roots. Just sayin’.)

One month after the book was published, Questlove reminded us of the distance that remains. After the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin, he posted an emotionally charged response on his Facebook page, which ended up going viral as “Trayvon Martin and I Ain’t Shit.” When you consider whether Zimmerman, or at least the jury in the trial, had looked at Trayvon Martin and seen a kid who might like the Beach Boys, rather than a thug or a punk or a lot of other words I’m not going to write here, then you begin to understand the true transformative power of a good record, of everybody loving something in common.  That’s why Mo’ Meta Blues is on our list of Books that Mattered in 2013.

See the Books that Mattered in 2013.

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Non-Fiction Advocate of the Day

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Alexander Nazaryan at the Atlantic Wire says you should read Signifying Rappers, David Foster Wallace’s recently re-released collaboration with Mark Costello about the emergence of hip hop in America.

A book about rap written a quarter century ago by two very white guys has tremendous potential to be embarrassing. I am happy to report that Signifying Rappers did not make me cringe a single time, though I did have to look up both cultural references (Schooly D) and words from DFW’s famously capacious lexicon (epiclesis; seriously, Dave?). It is also probably the only book about popular music to seriously discuss the origins of synecdochal imagery.

At heart, this book has heart. Its message is simple and humane. “Rap is poetry”…

This is part of the Wallace collection I have not gotten to, but Nazaryan gives it a healthy endorsement. My recommendation is to go buy Signifying Rappers, then get yourself copies of “Yeezus,” “Magna Carta Holy Grail” and Questlove’s Mo’ Meta Blues and make a summer out of it.

And if this Dave Wallace and Mark Costello collaboration isn’t grabbing you, maybe the new track from Elvis Costello and The Roots is more your speed:

– Michael Moats

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Flavorwire: 50 Books Everyone Should Read

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Following on to Questlove’s year-by-year breakdown of the albums that defined his youth, Flavorwire this week published a list(icle?), year-by-year, of 50 Books Everyone Should Read.

Starting in 1963, the list picks the most necessary, though not necessarily the best, reads from each year. As with any endeavor of this size, there’s plenty to love and plenty to What? about, and even some to WTF? about. For example, WTF is The Master and Margarita from 1967? And also, WTF happened in 1969, when the competition for Flavorwire’s pick I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings included Slaughterhouse-FivePortnoy’s ComplaintThe Left Hand of Darkness; and Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle?

Pretty good year.

We were glad to see some Fiction Advocate favorites make the list, like Gravity’s Rainbow (1973); Speedboat (1976); Infinite Jest (1996); A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010); and presumptive favorite The Flame Throwers (2013). I’ve also heard that Brian Hurley has a bad habit of getting buzzed and weeping about how much he loved Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (1970).

Read the full list here.

 Michael Moats

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