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Questlove + Baratunde Thurston Talk Future, Soul Train + The Responsibility of the Creative

Photo of Questlove + Baratunde Thurston event taken by Ann Thuy Nguyen for Okayplayer.

Questlove talked about the transformative nature of [Donald] Trump’s presidency. For those unaware, The Roots started making music in the midst of the Clinton Administration, so when George W. Bush was elected to the nation’s highest office, he [Quest] had predicted a revolutionary surge in protest music. “It didn’t happen,” he recalled. In fact, The Dixie Chickwere famously ostracized for being one of the few musical acts willing to take a stand against the president. Kanye West infamously said that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. While pulling his afro-pick out of his hair, Brother Question slashes it through the air to emphasize the way in which The Dixie Chicks were cut off by the country music establishment.

Unafraid of the backlash, Questlove, himself, is ready to return to culturally critical music. “Maybe this album needs to be as dark as some of the others,” he shared with the audience. “And maybe it needs six months of work,” marveling at Future‘s ability to churn out albums back-to-back. The Philly legend and late night savant has been thinking a lot about the impact of what he puts out into the world, especially when it comes to his words. The past few years found him instructing young minds as an instructor at New York University, a gig he claims gives him the most anxiety. So much so that he’s taken up stand-up comedy to learn to cope.

Naturally unfunny, Quest says, “I may be talking to a silent wall for ten minutes,” who believes that the practice builds in him the courage it takes to stand in front of 20 kids and purport to be an expert.

One thing he hasn’t quite figured out yet—but hopes too—is a way to revamp the legendary Soul Train for a 2017 audience. This is something Questlove dreams about “ferociously”. The man claimed to watch eight-to-15 episodes of Soul Train re-runs a week, reliving the Afrocentric song-and-dance show from his youth in all its black glory. He fears that today’s more multicultural—and multi-dimensional—cohort of black music listeners may not fully appreciate a singular message of “love, peace and black power” like a revamping of Don Cornelius‘s brainchild could provide. And, for the show to work, “music would actually have to be good again,” he controversially quipped.

Both Quest and Baratunde reflected on the childhoods that made them the artists they were today. From pre-K to Soul Train, make-believe to making hits — when asked about the essence of their creativity — Quest recalled making a radio show with a simple recorder as a kid, forcing his mom to play the role of Dionne Warwick and other R&B divas. For Baratunde, his recollection was a little darker, like today’s reality. “My mother was a single black woman raising children while her mayor smoked crack on television,” he said. “She had to be creative to protect us.”

Mankaprr Conteh is North Carolina based writer whose work has appeared on Elle.com and DJ Booth. Watch her (and us!) do the absolute most on Twitter: @Mankaprr.

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