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Improve Your Taste With... Questlove
The Roots' drummer on MGMT, the genius of Pixar, and his favorite Paul Thomas Anderson movie.
BY PETER SMITH
With a series of hit singles and savvy pop-culture cameos, Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson drove his hip-hop combo, The Roots, from cult stardom to mainstream success and a spot as the house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The recently released ninth Roots album, How I Got Over, finds the band mingling with an eclectic set of guests, from Joanna Newsom to the indie supergroup Monsters of Folk (on the well-received single "Dear God 2.0"). He gave us his free-associative recommendations in the heavily medicated aftermath of what he called "a near Lil Wayne-root-canal wisdom-teeth pulling."
Toy Story 3
I'm shocked how well-crafted Toy Story 3 was. I kind of went going, oh, kids film. It's genius to write a movie that somehow is two entirely different movies: one from a kid's point of view, one from an adult's. Because obviously kids got none of the ambiguity. They just made a lot of jokes that none of the kids got but the adults absolutely got, without alienating the kids. With the Roots, I have to deal with five demographics. If you listen to this record, I had to think about the audience that would gravitate towards "Dear God" and the audience that would gravitate towards "Web 20/20" and "Hustla." What they did in this movie to me is almost the equivalent of doing it in the same song. Cause Shrek just gave up — it was like, this twenty minutes is just for the adults.
MGMT - Congratulations
When did MGMT turn into the Beach Boys? I always wanted to do the "throw you off" record, but Phrenology was six albums in. I was very careful not to do that earlier in our career. I wanted to make sure that our feet were on terra firma and we had a nice audience fanbase in place, we had our first platinum CD, and then let's hit you with the sucker punch. These guys are on their sophomore record. Half of me was amazed that they were so bold. The other half was like, wow — will your fan base understand this?
I love PTA. Magnolia is the film I keep coming to, because it requires the most patience. I'm always showing Magnolia to people who saw it once but didn't get it. I have a friend, a Hollywood producer, who has a fear of frogs. I don't care if it's Kermit — the only thing I can compare it to is if you go on YouTube and look up "Maury Povich fear of pickles," there's a clip of a woman doing one of those Kool-Aid bust-through-the-wall bits at the sight of pickles. Anyway, my friend absolutely positively chewed the shit out of my shoulder during the rain-of-frogs scene in Magnolia. That was the only mistake I made in trying to put somebody on to it. Actually, John C. Reilly was on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon last week. Crazy guy. There's a really good viral commercial for a barbecue joint in Oklahoma called Mr. Sprigg's Barbecue. It's an R&B song straight out of the book of... I won't even say like the standard '90s R&B like Keith Sweat — it has to be, like, LeVert. And John C. Reilly's like, "It's always been my fantasy to sing the Sprigg's Barbecue commercial with you guys." We had to go on YouTube and figure it out, and then he sang it. If Mark Wahlberg ever comes on, we have to do "The Touch."
Parks and Recreation
I've said before and I'll say it again: Parks and Rec is criminally underrated. I think that if NBC can find a spot that's not right next to The Office, people will appreciate it more, because I think right now people are just looking at it as a female Office. But it's my favorite ensemble comedy since Arrested Development, which I think is a high compliment. Everyone's on their A game. I'll also say that I'm becoming more and more of a fan of Modern Family. The father on that show is becoming my favorite father figure on TV since Homer Simpson and James Evans from Good Times. Also, even though it's on a hidden, third-tier channel, I'm very happy that BET has brought back Soul Train reruns.
Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live
The purchase of my iPad has brought the experience of book-reading back ten-fold. I've ordered about ten, but I'm reading five at the same time, because that's how fun it is to read on the iPad. I chose Live from New York for obvious reasons, because I spend fifteen hours a day in Rockefeller Center, and I often walk through the hallways of Studio 8H just to imagine what it was like. With the exception of the writers and actors, pretty much everyone from Saturday Night Live is the same here. The same cameraman, the same assistant director, a lot of them are like, "Yeah, I was here in 1980. I was an intern when Eddie Murphy was singing 'Wooking Pa Nub.'" I love oral histories because there's really no curbing one side of the story — I also got Street Gang, the oral history of Sesame Street, and The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History as well. That one has shocked me the most. All the writers throw Matt Groening under the bus: "Yeah, 'he changed our lives' — he didn't do shit!"