The Roots’ manager and executive producer Rich Nichols received an eloquent tribute from his protége Questlove on Vulture.com today, speaking publicly for the first time about the loss of this foundational figure in the Okayplayer movement. That foundational role is simply but resoundingly summed up by Questo by the flat statement that “Rich was the fist voice in my book.”
“Rich was our manager, but that’s only a vague way of describing what he did. I first met Rich when I was a teenager in Philadelphia, when the band that would become the Roots started crystallizing around me and Tariq Trotter. Rich came to the show with a friend of his. Rich’s reputation preceded him, sort of: He was the DJ for a cutting-edge experimental jazz show on WRTI, the Temple University radio station; when Tariq and I were coming back from parties or concerts late at night, we would flip on the radio and listen to Rich’s show.
The night Rich came to see us, he didn’t seem especially impressed. We were playing with a replacement bassist, and he didn’t get the kind of thrill he expected. He scowled at us, I’m pretty sure. But then he had us out to his studio in Bensalem and we recorded a pair of songs, “Anti-Circle” and “Pass the Popcorn.” That time, something about us clicked with something in him. He was driving Tariq home and Tariq told him straight out that he should manage us. That was all it took…
…But that was just the foundation. Rich also helped build the whole cathedral.”
Rich is the type of person who powerfully impacted the lives of many artists and creative workers, was impossible to forget even if you met him only once–and almost impossible to describe to those who never knew him. Questlove does a brilliant job of summing up the force-of-nature quality that animated his argumentative and intellectually restless assault on the world with this passage:
“The day before Rich died, I visited him in the hospital. A group of us, close to him, spoke near him, over him, but also to him. Even though Rich was moving out of what we traditionally think of as life, he was there with us. I wondered what was going through his mind, what his internal monologue was. He couldn’t stay out of the fray. He was the fray.”
He also speaks to the question which probably would not occur to most fans of The Roots but which has formed in the mind of everyone who actually knew Rich: What will happen now…what does ‘The Roots’ even mean without Rich??
“In Rich’s absence, we’ll go on. What can we do but go on? But we won’t let the world be without him. We’ll keep his mind and spirit alive in our own minds and spirits….We will continue to carry forward his model and his creativity, to work on the idea, for better or worse. It may be better and it may be worse, but we’ll keep things moving.”