Questlove & More Talk The Soulquarian Era Of NYC's Electric Lady Studios
Questlove, James Poyser, Russell Elevado and Bilal take readers on a trip back to the Soulquarian era of NYC’s famed Electric Lady Studios in conversation with Red Bull Music Academy. The behind-the-scenes commentary takes fans inside the movement, from D’Angelo‘s decision to record at Electric Lady to the ensuing magic of those sessions and the mystical presence of Jimi The Cat. Quest also breaks down the genesis of the “Electric Eight” collective and talks a bittersweet passing of the baton at Dave Chappelle’s Block Party that hinted at the eventual rise of Yeezus. Check out the excerpt below to get a taste of the conversation. Read the full text of The Soulquarians at Electric Lady: An Oral History via redbullmusicacademy.com.
The Roots’ New York home base was always Battery Studios. We chose Battery Studios because that’s where Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Phife recorded all of their A Tribe Called Quest records. I remember D’Angelo had a session that he had to do for a movie soundtrack, and we recorded at Battery. I was ecstatic about the song, but he said, “It doesn’t have the vibe I’m looking for. Don’t worry because next week we’re going to go to the house that Jimi built.” I was like, “Huh?” He said, “Yeah, man. We’re going to go to Electric Lady.” At first, I was like there were so many classic records made at Battery Studios. Why would you want to go to Electric Lady Studios? As it turned out, D’Angelo already had one foot into the future. He just knew that place was so blessed. He said, “Yo, man. It has the blessings of the spirits. We have to go there. It’s only right.”
I didn’t really know about the history of Electric Lady Studios. But when I got there, the design of the place was so damn mystical. First of all, the original design was circular. It looked like a globe. It was so beautiful, and what was strange about it was our first day at Electric Lady was really the last week of that old infrastructure, because the family that had purchased Electric Lady Studios decided to knock down that beautiful, spherical brick front display that Jimi Hendrix had made for the studio. They just wanted to make it a regular building storefront, which I guess, in their minds, they thought if this venture were to fail, they could sell the building and cash in and really get a good retail store value from it.
I didn’t realize it was Electric Lady Studios because I’d walked by it so many times. My college was right up the street from the studio. We were standing in front of the building all that time and didn’t know what it was. [laughs]
I remember on the first day of recording it was three o’clock in the morning; D’Angelo, Russell Elevado, and I were saying to each other, “We can’t let these new people ruin Jimi’s vision.” We spent the whole day admiring the paintings and collages on the wall. We were marveling at them. To go into that building was like going inside of a spaceship. We decided that we were going to get up at nine in the morning and stand in front of the building, so they couldn’t knock down the wall. We were going to stand in front of the actual wrecking ball and prevent them from knocking it down. [laughs]
This conversation we had was at four o’clock in the morning. I set my clock for eight o’clock in the morning. So when I woke up, I called D’Angelo to make sure we were still going to do it. I was staying at the Paramount Hotel. So, I called him up, and he answered the phone half asleep. I asked him, “Are we still doing this?” He responded, “Doing what?” I replied, “Are we still standing in front of the wrecking ball?” He said, “Nah, man. I’m going back to sleep.” [laughs]