Clip: Vision ?uest
?uestlove is the hair apparent among the visionary Roots crew.
BY NATHAN DINSDALE
Ahmir Khalib Thompson is the coolest motherfucker on the planet.
Musician. Producer. DJ. Actor. Talent scout. Social commentator. Svengali
behind the Okayplayer hip-hop community. A man who can pull off punctuation
in a stage name: ?uestlove. The kick-ass drummer of the ass-kickingest
hip-hop collective on Earth.
Oh, yeah. And then there's his hair.
The man has spectacular hair. Iconic, even. The dark, glorious cotton-candy
plume serves as a metaphorical mushroom cloud rising above a desolate
hip-hop landscape as the man beneath the mane drops proverbial bombs on the
He was once just another close-cropped kid who loved jazz and soul. He and
MC Tariq Trotter formed the Roots after they met in the principal's office
of the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. The
pair gave themselves new names --?uestlove for Thompson and Black Thought
for Trotter -- and enlisted a supporting cast to form a group that went on
to put out two of the best hip-hop albums -- 1999's Things Fall Apart and
2002's Phrenology -- of the past five years (earning a Grammy in the
The Roots are among the progressive Outkasts of popular hip-hop. The
group's new album, The Tipping Point, aspires to duplicate the central
tenet of the Malcolm Gladwell book it's named after, which asserts that
ideas, messages, and behaviors can be spread like viruses.
But every band in uncharted waters needs an anchor. And ?uestlove's Afro
serves as the literal and symbolic ballast that keeps the Roots on an even
Is it a coincidence? Is ?uestlove's hair -- allegedly last shorn on prom
night, June 2, 1989 -- really a conduit for channeling creative genius?
Does it absorb musical acumen from across the ages? Sure, why not. To prove
it, we say screw Kevin Bacon -- here's six degrees of ?uestlove.
Sly and the Family Stone
Throw a hair pick into the '70s, and you'll snag the mutton chops of at
least a dozen artists who have influenced the Roots. But ?uestlove's
ability to harness a groove and hitch it to subversive soul owes a debt
that The Tipping Point repays with "Star/Pointro," which includes a sample
of Sly's "Everybody Is a Star." And there really was enough room for
everybody -- or at least two or three garden gnomes -- to be a star inside
Sly's pompadour 'fro.
The Jackson 5
I'm Ahmir Thompson, bitch! Doesn't have quite the same ring, does it? But
whereas ?uestlove probably wouldn't endorse putting out cigarettes on
prostitutes, he has appeared on Chappelle's Show, home to the infamous Rick
James skit that sparked the domestic-abuse catchphrase of the year. For his
part, James is a staunch friend of the embattled Jackson family, who, in
happier times, taught us the ABCs of sporting righteous hair helmets.
The Roots' social commentary is a smidge more cerebral than shrieking Kick
out the jams, motherfuckers! But the group does share a penchant for
politics with the White Panther Party's one-time de facto house band. The
Roots also toured with Rage Against the Machine -- which did a scathing
cover of the MC5's "Kick Out the Jams" -- before fiery frontman Zach De La
Rocha enlisted ?uestlove's production expertise for his solo material when
Earth, Wind and Fire
Afro Sheen might be impermeable to the elements, but it doesn't stand a
chance against Earth, Wind and Fire. Having absorbed that group's funky
grooves and groovy funk, ?uestlove included EWF's "Clover" on his Babies
Making Babies album of rare skins-slapping tunes.
Cedric Bixler and Omar Rodriguez
The quirky, dueling puff balls of alternative hard rock, Bixler and
Rodriguez first captured their eclectic mix of heavy rock, Latin-influenced
jazz, and experimental freakouts as At the Drive-In before becoming the
Mars Volta. At the Drive-In was signed to the now-defunct Grand Royal
label, owned by the Beastie Boys, for whom the Roots opened shows.
There would seem to be little connection between a pasty Jewish folkie from
Queens and a streetwise hip-hop collective from Philadelphia. And you're
right, there isn't much -- beyond Garfunkel's curly, redheaded-stepchild
'fro. But both A-Gar and ?uestlove share a love for soulful songwriting ...
and rooting for the Phillies.
Ludacris sported the largest Afro in human history -- albeit digitally
enhanced -- for his "Stand Up" video. But even though Luda and the Roots
reside on opposite ends of the hip-hop spectrum, Luda did have Kanye West
produce "Stand Up" when West wasn't working with Jay-Z, who happens to have
employed ?uestlove in the same capacity.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
The Jimi Hendrix Experience is arguably the most formidable 'fro trio in
history. The guitar god had a credible do of his own, but drummer Mitch
Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding boasted some of the most wicked Afros (or
is it Anglos?) ever to burden the heads of white men. Both the Roots and
the Experience enjoyed stretching musical boundaries, and ?uestlove
channeled the Voodoo Child as the driving force behind D'Angelo's Voodoo.
Disco Stu lives the '70s. ?uestlove loves the '70s. ?uest sports a rockin'
'fro. Stu does, too. Stu wears killer goldfish platform shoes. Alas, ?uest
won't let us peek in his closet. But we do know that Stu's neighbor Homer
Simpson once starred in a Lollapalooza-style festival by catching a
cannonball with his ample gut. The Roots cut their teeth performing on
Lollapalooza's second stage. There is no word on ?uestlove's ability to
eastbayexpress.com | originally published: August 4, 2004