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26. Because Questlove Is the People’s Bandleader.

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Photo-illustration by Darrow  

Here is a list of just a few of the things Questlove has been in the news for in the past year: backing up rap legend Rakim for a live performance of the 1987 album Paid in Full, hooking up jazz saxophonist David Murray with soul singer Macy Gray, D.J.-ing for Heidi Klum’s Halloween party, admiring the ska-punk-jazz band Fishbone (in particular their song “Lyin Ass Bitch,” which he infamously chose as Michele Bachmann’s walk-on music on Late Night), admiring the Chicago band KTD (an eight-piece gang of high-school kids), appearing in a documentary about seventies black activists, appearing in a documentary about A Tribe Called Quest, playing a tsunami-relief concert with an ex–Miles Davis bassist, spinning records at Brooklyn Bowl, playing with funk trio Soulive at Brooklyn Bowl, and co-producing an album by Booker T. (of “& the MGs” fame). And this was all moonlighting: In his main job, as the drummer-leader of the Roots, he played on, orchestrated, and co-produced yet another outstanding and acclaimed album, Undun, while maintaining the group’s reputation as the best band in late night on Jimmy Fallon’s talk show. What this proves, besides the incredible amount of energy that lurks beneath the skin of a guy who looks like he’s always on the verge of falling asleep, is just how completely wrong we all were in thinking that Questlove and his band had removed themselves from cultural relevance by taking a job playing commercial fade-ins in a TV studio. He’s redefined the sideshow, second-banana position of the late-night bandleader, using his platform to cultivate an eclectic 30 Rock juke joint: In 2011, they’ve backed up acts as varied as punk legend Bob Mould, country top-40 artist Hunter Hayes, and cast members from Yo Gabba Gabba! accompanied by Erykah Badu. All the while, Questlove, freed from perpetual touring, has become a city institution (even though he hails from and claims to still live in Philly) both as a performer and guy in the know. The “Questlove’s Celebrity Stories” webpage should win some sort of writing award for its sharp, hilarious, and somehow relatable assessments of encounters with individuals ranging from Tina Fey to George Clinton. And he even managed to be the first person to report the police rush on Zuccotti Park, tweeting, to his 2 million followers, a warning about the predawn law enforcement massing near the West Side Highway on his way home from yet another gig. They didn’t heed the warning in time, though. For once, no one was listening to Questlove.


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