Questlove Talks Twitter Controversy, Saving the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Riding the MFL
Earlier this week, I published part one of my interview with Questlove, whose Roots Picnic is shaping up to be the prime Philadelphia festival event of summer concert season. We talked about the Tupac “hologram,” the future of music (a hologram Led Zeppelin reunion?), and his aversion to public restrooms. I saved his thoughts on fried chicken, the Philadelphia Orchestra bankruptcy and Twitter for part two.
Since you just engaged in a “Fried Chicken Battle” on Fallon, pitting your fried chicken against Momofuku chef David Chang’s, I have to ask you about the dustup over Mary J. Blige’s Burger King chicken commercial, which some called “buffoonish.”
I don’t think there was anything buffoonish or neo-minstrel about the commercial. Do I think it could have been executed better? Yes. Do I know that there is a hair trigger sensitive issue among African Americans concerning this issue? Absolutely. Would it have been wiser for them to be aware of that? Perhaps so. But that’s what we’re learning in this post-racial era. Some people say, “Let’s move on.” For others, it’s hard.
Have you had any pressure or criticism over the fact that you’re selling fried chicken?
I don’t have any insecurities or issues on how people view me, per se. I know there’s a primitive exotic element in me that seems appealing to people as far as the humongous Afro and whatnot. But I am probably the one who had to put the brakes on how it’s advertised. For starters, I called them Drumsticks, not fried chicken. Not until Fallon had I heard fried chicken.
My colleague recently wrote an article calling out the ugliest public art in Philadelphia. Knowing that you’re a bit of an aesthete and that the band is getting its own mural here this year, I’m wondering if you have any favorite or least favorite examples of public art in Philly.
I’m one of these Philadelphians who would get on the Market Frankford Line and go all the way from 69th to Frankford and back on the front car and really enjoy the graffiti displays. One of my favorite of all time, although it was recently taken down, was at 46th right before the tunnel. It was by a graffiti artist named Estro, and it was a rabbit eating a gold carrot with a bunch of treasure chests. I miss the awesome graffiti art that he did along the El.
We spoke about the holograms and the future of music. So let’s talk about the future of music’s past: classical music. As you know, the Philadelphia Orchestra is bankrupt. Can it be saved? Should it be?
What I am slowly discovering is that there’s no middle ground to keep these businesses going and alive, so thus they do need Jay-Z doing Carnegie Hall. This week I am doing something called Shuffle Culture at [the Brooklyn Academy of Music]. It’s basically sort of an extension of the Philly Paris Lockdown I did at the Kimmel Center last year, except I’m not doing turn-of-the-century classical music. Some of these more established houses are going to have to be open to the idea of other types of music so that they can stay open. Either you let in rock stars to generate money, or you have to be open to ideas of other forms of experimental music sitting side by side with classical. Is it blasphemous for me to bring in these other forms? Or is it the ongoing evolution and metamorphosis of culture?
But how do we get a new audience to appreciate classical music, not just go to Carnegie for Jay-Z?
I’m well aware that music culture is slowly falling by the wayside, and there has to be an adjustment on both parts. I have an interest in classical because I am a musician, but the other side is maybe someone my age not as well versed in music might want to save his money for a Springsteen concert, not go see classical. I’m a traditionalist. I’m for the preservation of certain things, but to gain people’s interest, you can’t force them. You have to make it appealing. I got interested through a gateway.
What was your introduction?
I was listening to R&B records that had classical overtones, and my teacher finally put me on to Debussy and Stravinsky. He was educated enough to make comparisons. He played Rite of Spring and said, “This is what Public Enemy would have done back in the day.” When Stravinsky premiered Rite of Spring, it caused a riot. People called it “ugly noise.” That got me interested. Education is the key. You’ve got to grab them before the age of eleven.
Lady Gaga is the latest celebrity to get into trouble via Twitter. You’re an avid Twitter user. Do you find yourself filtering a lot?
I often get in trouble. The problem with a tweet is that you have to be extremely specific, because you’ve only got 140 characters to make your point, and I’ve often noticed that doing a multi-tweet statement never works, since usually people hang on to the original tweet and then retweet and then people come at you. But the beautiful thing about Twitter is that it does cut the velvet rope and shows an accessibility that this kind of cult of personality life never gave you before. It’s exciting to peel the layers away and see that your favorite artist is a living, breathing entity. But people have to be very specific in how they use their words. It can have ripple repercussions. I’m at a level of celebrity where I can be more honest and more blunt, and it won’t go quite as far.