Questlove’s Most Awesome Guide to the Made In America Lineup

From Pearl Jam to Santigold, the self-described music snob knows what concertgoers are in for.

Jay-Z’s Made In America Festival will feature two days, four stages, tens of thousands of fans, and more than 30 different groups, performers and DJs. Overwhelming to be sure. So I asked Questlove, Philadelphia’s ultimate music snob, to break down the Made In America lineup. Here, he offers his thoughts on everyone from Jay-Z (whom he naturally calls “Jay”) to Santigold to Skrillex to Pearl Jam. The guy has a story for everything.

[Photo: Frank Uyttenhove]


Questlove says…

“Jay wanted me to have a Questlove stage, but we already committed to this festival in Ireland. But every time I had to play with Jay, I’ve had to wear some sort of five-figure tuxedo that I wouldn’t even wear to my own wedding. Last time, he let me get away with the ’70s ruffled shirt thing. The 10-year anniversary of Reasonable Doubt, Jay-Z at Carnegie Hall, the Rat Pack-ish New Year’s show in 2007. The tux is always a requirement. Like with James Brown, except Jay doesn’t give you a $50 fine if your jacket is wrinkled.”



Questlove says…

“Yo, man. Someone that small shouldn’t be that scary. That trademark noise. Pac-Man on steroids. I see Pac-Man and the four ghosts chasing me with sharp teeth, eating me in slow motion. That is the sound of that breakdown. It’s addictive and unavoidable. The first time we were on a bill together—I think it was San Francisco—I heard that noise for the first time, ran from my dressing room, and saw a small, lanky kid. It’s sharp, razor edge, slice your throat music.”



Questlove says…

“The most psychedelic Roots show ever came courtesy of a Roots-Run DMC show in, of all places, Amsterdam. That was the closest to a Dark Side of the Moon performance if there ever was one because of the natural assistance that we got from Amsterdam’s finest resources. And one of the first-ever non South Street corner performances of the Roots was with Run DMC at the Dell East. We got a call at the last minute to show up at like 7:30 and be their opener. We had another show later that night at the Trocadero, and Jam Master Jay asked us permission—he said, ‘We got this group … can they come do like one song or two during your show?’ We said yes. And that group was Onyx. That was the first time we ever saw hip-hoppers slam dancing.”


Calvin Harris

Questlove says…

“I have not met or worked with Calvin Harris, but whenever magazines ask me to submit my 10 favorite party jams of all time … I’m proud of the new found success he’s getting, but I swear to God, his ‘Colours’ is one of my favorite favorite, unsung, unheralded songs ever. I wish that was the song that the public was embracing, but I am glad that he’s getting exposure from Rihanna. ‘Colours’ is without a doubt one of my favorite super super super super favorite songs. That’s my party starter song.”


Pearl Jam

Questlove says…

“The fellows were on the show earlier this winter. Vedder had a crazy idea. He wanted the Roots to sit in, and we were amped. The catch was, he wanted us to be the Pips to his Gladys Knight. We did ‘All Night.’ [See that performance, above.] We were backstage kind of trying to do some dance moves straight out of Cholly Atkins. We worked about three hours on our Cholly Atkins dance routine … Those guys are very uber intense, super uber intense, and that’s going to be one righteous headlining moment.”


Gary Clark Jr.

Questlove says…

“Most guitar players will freely say, ‘My idol is Jimi Hendrix.’ But if you wanna become as great as Jimi, you gotta idolize the people that Hendrix idolized. That’s what differentiates Gary Clark from other guitar players. It’s not about how fast, how many triads in 10 seconds. He’s one of the best blues guitarists living today. I know because he’s not as super flamboyant as Hendrix that people will be slow to make that comparison. But he has an awesome, unique voice, his songwriting is ace and his technique is to be bowed down and worshiped. It scares me. Every time I see him, I get an omen feeling or whatever. I make sure I absorb every second of his performance as if it was the last. There is something ghostly and scary about watching someone that talented.”



Questlove says…

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve begged this guy to put the friggin’ period at the end of the sentence and release this record already. I have two brothers in this industry. Of course, one I started a group with and the other one I started a movement with. D and I are ninja brothers from another mother. D did one of his first performances of 12 years in the U.S. at Bonnaroo, a midnight performance, him and I and our collective doing obscure soul cover songs. Should be no reason why he should not be one of the performance highlights of the evening. I helped put the show together, so I am kind of biased about that.”


The Hives

Questlove says…

“One of the bad argument stories of the Roots was me begging the group to wear unified uniforms, to all of us wear the same uniform on Letterman back when we were promoting Game Theory. Having seen the Hives two times in concert, I felt like they were sharper looking than us. We were in our mid-30s and still wearing street gear. So we had a lot of arguments about it, but I finally won, because the hot suits would keep us warm, and the Letterman studio is 63 degrees. There is a term in the industry called ‘Letterman cold.’ He keeps it 63 degrees to keep the audience from being bored. And so, the Hives are the whole reason we originally adopted suits. I was secretly jealous that they were more exciting than us.”



Questlove says…

“I know she’s leading this renaissance New York movement, but I want the world to know she is from Mt. Airy. My last day interning at Ruffhouse Records on Callowhill, I asked my boss Chris Schwartz for a loan … to shoot a video. He cut me a check for $6,000. I was walking out and this beautiful girl walked in with dreadlocks. It was my ‘Dream Weaver’ moment from Wayne’s World, and that was Santi. She doesn’t know this, but I reported to work for two or three weeks after the fact to find any excuse to hang out, and we became great friends. She also became the cover model for our ‘Silent Treatment’ single. Most people thought the girl on the album cover was the girl Tariq was rhyming about, but that was Santi.”


Jill Scott

Questlove says…

“I beam with serious pride every time I see her. And it’s not a thing like, I built that. It’s just the fact that she had such seasoning, such charismatic seasoning, an advantage way above everyone else. She along with us spent a bazillion Malcolm Gladwell hours rehearsing week after week after week. Between her and Jaguar Wright, the two of them would go home and prepare how they were going to outdo each other. You’ve gotta top what you did last week, gotta write a better song. This rivalry would last for a real steady 13 to 14 months, rehearsing consistently two times a week. And so I would like to think that this kind of woodshed rehearsal preparation made it easier to perform as well as she does.”


Janelle Monae

Questlove says…

“We did a show in Atlanta when she was still an unknown, unsigned, opening local act. I had never seen an opening act go for the jugular vein. I said, ‘This is going to be a problem—she is trying to outdo us.’ That was one of the few times—only three in my career—where I purposely let 45 minutes go by between the opening act and the set. I was really intimidated. People say she’s the Second Coming of James Brown. I believe she is more akin to—and musicologists will get this reference—the Harlem Sam Cooke live album. He put on two personas so he could survive in the ’50s and ’60s. His pop side was sort of Nat King Cole with a slight gospel edge. But he had a completely different show for the black audience. There are two landmark Sam Cooke live albums, recorded in the same week. One was downtown at the Copa dinner theater, suit and tie. The other was fire and brimstone, sweat on my brow, take tie off, open a few buttons, down and dirty, gritty performance, and that is what Janelle is like. She is the most fearless performer I have ever seen in the last 10 years.”


Dirty Projectors

Questlove says

“It was my third or fourth month on Fallon when they were on. I had never seen such meticulous, dead-on, bull’s-eye precision ever. I couldn’t believe what I was watching. After the show, we said, ‘They can’t be from Brooklyn. They’re too good to be from Brooklyn.’ They just happened to be walking by the dressing room, and I was like fuck that, prove it. Can you step into our dressing room and do that vocal thing, prove it’s not Pro Tools or some other device? And they were more than happy to. They blew my mind. I became an instant stalker of those guys, I went to every show, I traveled far and wide to see them. They are absolute masters. I could go on for 12 hours. They are by far one of my favorite groups.”


Odd Future

Questlove says…

“Jimmy Fallon said, ‘Yo, you guys, what do you think of Odd Future?’ I instantly knew there’s no way you mean for the late night show, you just mean what do I think. I was instantly like, ‘Yeah, they’re dope.’ He said, ‘Yo, man. They’re coming next week.’ And that was the first time I ever feared for my job. You have to remember, the first year or so, we were on probation, living under constant fear. Wait a minute! Every fourth word is the most offensive shit you’ve ever heard. The FCC is gonna be on our ass, and we’re going to lose our jobs. That’s all I kept thinking. It was hands down the most intense day ever. They jumped all over Jimmy’s desk, jumped on his shoulders. In my head, I thought they were going to pull a Bobcat Goldthwait and set the studio on fire. I’ve never seen a more dangerous, edgy band in hip hop. I’ve missed the scare-the-parents hip hop. I thought those days were gone. Hip hop needs to be that dangerous again. The opposite effect of Frank Ocean.”


Meek Mill

Questlove says…

“He is the pride of Philadelphia. This is an apropos homecoming for him. He’s done a lot for the city. The entire world knows about Meek Mill. That name is probably the most Philadelphia rap name ever. It’s the most Philadelphia name ever, with the exception of Man Man. Man Man was the consummate Philadelphia name. Meek Mill is second running for the best Philadelphia sounding name that has somehow gone international.”