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  • Carl Zimring
    Vision ?uest ?uestlove is the hair apparent among the visionary Roots crew. BY NATHAN DINSDALE
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 6 5:40 AM
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      Vision ?uest
      ?uestlove is the hair apparent among the visionary Roots crew.
      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
      music community.

      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 MC5

      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
      Rage disintegrated.

      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.

      Art Garfunkel

      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

      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
      absorb artillery.

      eastbayexpress.com | originally published: August 4, 2004
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