To say Questlove is prolific would still somehow be absurdly underestimating his output in recent years.
The famed drummer for The Roots, né Ahmir Thompson, is by extension bandleader on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon five episodes a week, tours with The Roots crew, writes books, hosts a weekly podcast (Questlove Supreme), DJs high-level events like the Oscars, lent his voice to Pixar’s Oscar-winning Soul, won his own Oscar for directing the documentary Summer of Soul, produces this year’s Oscar contender Descendant, is working on directing a new doc about Sly & The Family Stone, and still finds time to be the Hip Hop Rex Chapman on Twitter.
There’s also Quest for Craft, his Balvenie-sponsored digital series in which the music guru sits down with fellow cultural and artistic creators like Michael Che, Jimmy Jam, Patti Smith, Malcolm Gladwell for in-depth chats about what they do and how they do it.
“You know, it’s weird. I’ll say before, probably before 2019, I was just overdosing on curiosity,” Thompson admits to us in a recent interview promoting Season 2 of Quest for Craft, which kicks off this week on YouTube. “You know, ‘I’m gonna write a book. I’m gonna do food activism. I’m gonna score this film. I’m gonna work on this Broadway play. Yeah, I’ll DJ your party. Oh, it’s the Tonight Show? Word. I’ll develop this television show.’ I was just constantly [working], and then the pandemic happened and all that went away.
“And it’s one of the scariest times in my life because it’s like, ‘Uh, well, I have nothing to do. What do I do?’ And suddenly I didn’t realize how much, like for the first time in my adult life, 2020 marked the first time in my adult life since the age of 6, that I’ve not been on a stage in some sort of performance capacity. Like at least once every seven days, not a week is going by where I wasn’t [performing], be it playing drums in church or acting in a school play, or helping my dad show out, to my own shows. For the first time in my life, I’m like, ‘Wow, did a month go by, and I haven’t been on a stage performing?’”
It was ultimately a reset for Thompson.
“This was the first time in my adult life in which I just stopped and did nothing. And there wasn’t a price to pay for it. You know what I mean? Cause oftentimes, staff will be like, ‘All right, you gotta take three days out just to clear your mind.’ But taking three days off, you feel so guilty ‘cause it’s like, ‘There’s so much work to do.’ Like everything I used to laugh about and make fun of, I became that guy. So now it’s a weird place because of course, Summer of Soul opened up so many doors… To utilize the word ‘no I can’t’ is such a hard thing [for me]. But, you know, now I’m, I’m, I’m in the happy medium of still cherry-picking my passions. But still taking time out for silence and to enjoy it all.”
Quest for Craft is clearly one of those passions. Thompson speaks with palpable excitement when previewing each of Season 2’s guests and the episode’s themes.
There’s super-producer Mark Ronson: “It’s about basically adapting to a new environment. Like how do you go from being a DJ to making beats to being an engineer, to songwriting, to co-producing, to producing, to conceptualizing?”
Ballet sensation Misty Copeland: “She comes from a level of creativity where perfection is expected as a ballerina. But for musicians like me, mistakes are everything.”
Famed author Fran Lebowitz: “She talks about why New York City defines her. Like, in other words, if I were to put Fran Lebowitz in like Wyoming or Atlanta or anywhere else but New York City, would she be the same person?”
And Saturday Night Live mainstay Kenan Thompson: “Kenan is part of a machine that turns out superstars… You’re supposed to do this show for three to four years, and then you leave and you do movies and you become a megastar. So I actually like the fact that Keenan feels comfortable and knows that he’s best as an ensemble comedian, which is why he’s been there for 25 years.”
Thompson laughs when told Quest for Craft reminds us of Anthony Bourdain’s long-running foodie travel show No Reservations, but for those with a taste for artistic and cultural delicacies.
“That was my guy, man,” he says of the famed chef-turned-TV host who died by suicide in 2018. “Some of my best musical arguments were with him. He hated yacht rock so much. Even when he passed away, I had the last laugh ‘cause I made a playlist in his honor and it was all the music he hated.
“But no, he was, for me, one of the best examples of how to use your platform. To teach a lesson and express passion. So I guess in my mind, I’m trying to release my inner-Bourdain.”
Quest for Craft is currently streaming.
Watch the trailer for Season 2: