Central to Sunday’s Roots’ concert was drummer and creative force Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson. Although he’s an accomplished producer, DJ and businessman, Thompson is usually recognized by his distinct afro. However, those who only know the man’s hair are unfortunately neglecting Thompson’s charisma, intelligence and Vitruvian nature

Before the concert, Thompson spoke with The Michigan Daily about the Roots’ latest masterpiece, Phrenology.

The Michigan Daily: Phrenology was a departure from the other music we’ve heard from the Roots. What was the discussion like when you were coming up with the concept of this record?

Ahmir Thompson: (To) earn our renegade stripes. All the time it’s like [mockingly], ‘You guys are so innovative, you guys are so great, you guys are so great’ – but, the “great” people that I know of, or that I call great, part of their careers has been about exploring uncharted territory.

I just never want to be called predictable, or ‘that’s a typical Roots sound.’ I got a lot of that in 2001. [Mockingly] ‘Yo man, the Roots’ sound is in, the Roots’ sound is in.’ I’m like what is ‘the Roots’ sound is in?’ Is the Roots’ sound “Mellow My Man,” or is the Roots’ sound “Clones?” The Roots’ sound could be pretty much anything if you look at our production spectrum.

TMD: On what did you draw for this record?

AT: I’ve always been a Bomb Squad fan. Lyrically, Tariq (Black Thought) has been a Juice Crew fan, so any Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, Biz, Roxanne, Masta Ace, Craig G and Marly Marl, that’s who he idolized. With me, it was the Bomb Squad. Anything to do with Public Enemy or any of the groups that Public Enemy produced between ’87 and ’92, that’s what I was obsessed with.

So, I got in Spike (Lee)’s ear about redoing “Burn Hollywood Burn” (for “Bamboozled”) and I used it as a litmus test to see how it would work, and if I felt pleased with the results, we would try to make our album that radical. At the end of the day, we just decided not to do the whole album as radical as that song. So pretty much, I wanted to do something PE-like on the new album, but I didn’t want it to stick out like a sore thumb. (That led to) “Thought at Work” and … we had to go for the gusto.

TMD: That piano beat that the song was first over …

AT: Yeah, yeah “Hey Bulldog.” We were down, mixing it. Our engineer walks in and is like ‘Hey, the Beatles!’ I was like, ‘Nah, that ain’t no Beatles’ and he’s like [high pitched] ‘No, man, it’s the Beatles.’ I found out that it’s a Lennon-McCartney composition, and that means that Michael Jackson owns it and right now, he’s in a major battle with Sony over who owns the Beatles’ stuff, so they’re basically not clearing anything. Trust me, I tried. I emailed the shit out of Sean Lennon and all that stuff, but in a way, it kind of freed me. It kind of liberated us. That freed me to just, fuck it, do the PE version, do the “Bring the Noise” tribute.

TMD: It was nice to hear that Incredible Bongo Band sample on there.

AT: That, to me, is like a b-boy tribute.

TMD: How did you guys hook up with Cody ChestnuTT (on the track ” The Seed (2.0)”)?

AT: Actually, I first discovered Cody in the “D.” A good friend of mine who’s a writer from Detroit, Dream Hampton, had his demo, but she didn’t want to give it to me, you know, because it was so sacred to her, but that shit wasn’t ever gonna stop my ass. So, I put an APB out on him and luckily, he had sent his demo to every major label including (mine) and it wound up in the throw away pile. It just so happens that one of the interns remembered the name Cody ChestnuTT, and as a result, I found him and insisted that we meet and talk about working.

TMD: What is going on with Malik B these days? I think that everyone has heard “Water,” and they’re kind of curious.

AT: To be honest, I have not really spoken to Malik since the album came out. Right now, I think that he’s just living his life and pretty much just dealing with his life, so it’s cool.

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