An Intimate Lecture w/ ?uestlove


You mention the term, self-saboteur. Do you feel that it applies to you in any way?


Yea, especially in that time period. I think that when people don’t know how to deal with relative success, or how to handle it … a great example of it is probably our sixth album, “Phrenology”.

There’s a term called the departure album. And usually any artist that has some sort of artistic peak … there’s only one artist that I know that even dared to attempt to capitalize on the lightning in the bottle moment for their career – and that was Michael Jackson. He acknowledged that “Thriller” sold 40 million units and he wanted “Bad” to sell 100 million units. And he went in every day with the intent on, “I absolutely must sell this many units!”

?uestlove of the Roots interview with Red Bull Academy

The average artist does the opposite – they do the departure record. The first departure record was “Sgt. Pepper’s”. The Beatles were tired of being The Beatles. They said, “Let’s make a disguise record. Let’s do the opposite of what we should be doing.” And it backfired and actually became a standard. Marvin Gaye was tired of being Marvin Gaye. He wanted to get fat and grow a beard. He was tired of being the Prince of Motown. It backfired and “What’s Going On” winds up being a standard. Prince makes “Around The World In A Day” after “Purple Rain”, because the pressure of following up this massive album. It’s too much for him, so he makes the complete opposite record.

There’s a gazillion … Stevie Wonder – “Songs In The Key Of Life”. He can’t follow it, so he makes “Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants” – the closest to kind of a Pink Floyd experimental record. You can say the same thing for “Kid A” by Radiohead – coming on the heels of “OK Computer”, which was like one of the most critically acclaimed albums of 1998.

So in our case, at the time, I just felt like let’s just do the record … I don’t know what makes you … I don’t know the psychological thought process that leads one to say, “Okay, let’s take everything that we worked for and just throw it out the window. Let’s make the complete opposite album.”

To some critics of the post Village Voice cloth it’s like, “Oh, it’s an artistic statement!” It was seen as a bold move, but if I’m probably honest about it – it was like, “I don’t know what to do and we’re scared that we can’t follow up this record, because we didn’t plan this success. So let’s mess it up before they mess it up for us.”