Photo by Nicke Reale, courtesy of NYU Local
Professor ?uestlove recently sat down with NYU Local blog to discuss his “Classic Albums” course, currently on offer at that prestigious institution of higher learning. Probably one of the most coveted college courses in the country, word has it that the class has been a tough nut to crack for curious students who didn’t make the initial 24-seat roster. Compounding the hype was the news that Apple products came standard with registration. The course, piloted by Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson and Harry Weinger – two-time Grammy Award winning reissue producer and Vice President of A&R for Universal Music Enterprises – offers students at the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music a chance to pick their brains and compile a working knowledge of the most important contributions musicians have made over the past several decades. People gravitate toward certain songs because the sound appeals to them, many times without knowing where those sounds or samples came from. This course is an opportunity for a couple of guys who share an encyclopedic knowledge of albums, artists and important moments in music to pass the baton – a veritable master list of must-listen’s. ?uestlove–who humbly considers himself more of a student of music than a teacher–explained his motivation to teach:
You’re hoarding all this information, but have you taught someone that this is important?” The mistake we made is that the potent magic of the music I listened to when I was growing up would just somehow transcend mankind through the ages, like throwing a stone in a lake and watching it ripple. Now I realize that we’re the ripple. My goal is simply to teach 24 students how to enjoy music. There’s a wealth of knowledge and information on the internet and a lot of it is overwhelming and there’s too much to process. I just want to point out and say, ‘Hey, try door 36. Try door 513, that’s kind of cool’ then have them decide for themselves.
Weinger continues, elucidating the science behind the idea of the classic.
We have many specific texts that talk about the canon – what is canon? Then in literature and art, there is a canon. There’s an assumed greatness of Da Vinci, Picasso, Bach, Beethoven. In literature, there’s Shakespeare, etc. Now that rock music is sixty years old, there’s now discussion of the canon. Years and years of Rolling Stone, NME, Vibe, discussing the top 100, top 500 albums and, pretty soon, you see there are things that float to the top. The Stones, The Beatles, Velvet Underground, Marvin Gaye, begin to float to the top. So there’s a conversation of how that happens, who makes those decisions, what are these records and what do they have in common? Out of that then, Ahmir and I have subjectively chose the records for this class.
While shepherding his iPad-wielding flock of budding musicologists, ?uestlove is also enjoying the opportunity to infiltrate academia without having to pay for it. One could correctly assume that at an institution like NYU the music library is nothing short of stacks on stacks on stacks. Back in the classroom, the course covers the most awesome and important points of modern music from classic rock to Public Enemy and Prince – a topic near and dear to ?uesto’s heart. Delving into the nuance that separates the classic from the masterpiece and his abiding love for MetaCritic ratings, ?uestlove gives a bit of an insight into the method behind the madness of his life as a music geek. All things considered, it seems the professorial life is a welcome and very organic change for the DJ, producer and bandleader of The Legendary Roots Crew.