From The New Yorker:
ABSTRACT: PROFILE of hip-hop pioneer Ahmir Khalib (Questlove) Thompson. The Roots have one of the stranger careers in popular music. They’re a hip-hop band that plays instruments, social activists in an age of gangsta rap, outsider artists who occasionally appear on Nickelodeon. Talk-show bands tend to be anonymous tribes, but, as the house band for “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” the Roots have upended this tradition. Questlove, the drummer and joint frontman, with Tariq (Black Thought) Trotter, its m.c., was in Nashville in early June, waiting to rehearse with the R. & B. musician D’Angelo for their show at Bonnaroo, the Southern music festival. Questlove, now forty-one, grew up in show business and has made a lifelong study of it. He has spent most of his life as a perfectionist among brilliant screw-ups. Being America’s bandleader can be rough work. The Fallon show has given Questlove the audience he wanted in a strictly controlled environment, with some of the world’s best musicians as playmates. Describes his childhood in West Philadelphia. At fifteen, Ahmir was already a seasoned professional, attending the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. When Questlove says that his life was saved by hip-hop, he means to say that it made sense of everything that came before. The Roots have won four Grammys and earned eleven nominations, yet the band has never had a No. 1 hit or a platinum record. The band will always have a somewhat divided nature—Questlove plays the aesthete, Tariq the street tough; Questlove the perfectionist, Tariq the freestyler. What’s not clear is how the band’s good fortune will affect their art.