As VIBE continues celebrating one of the most pivotal and influential years in modern black music, 1994, we chopped it up with afro-picked drummer Questlove of the Roots for a perspective on the legendary rap band’s last true year as rap “super fans.” —Adelle Platon
VIBE: So we’re celebrating ’94 Week and hailing music that came out in 1994. Is there a certain project that sticks out in your mind? Questlove: In ’94 The Roots took a creative exile from The United States. We had a hunch that our then-label Geffen was going to drop us because of the string of events that were going on in the first three months of the year. Aerosmith had left and gone to Sony, Guns N Roses wasn’t going to release an album, and then Kurt Cobain committed suicide. My manager said “We’re going to get dropped, we need to do something.” In two weeks, we decided that we were going to finish our record and use our remaining publishing money and exile to Europe. Pull a Hendrix, is what they called it. Hendrix left to Europe, became a star and then came back to the U.S. Imagine: Seven of us living in a three-bedroom flat. Most of them were vegans, so they all gained the most weight ever in that period, living off of potatoes and fish for a year. Cold-ass apartment, the only new CD we had was Method Man’s Tical. Whenever I hear Tical, it gets traumatic. All I think about was the hazing starvation period of 1994. It felt like we were never going to matter. 1994 hosted other projects such as Illmatic, Outkast’s debut LP and Ready To Die. Do you this that validates ’94 as hip-hop’s greatest year? In my opinion, there are four key years of classic hip-hop. 1988 of course was the first sprout of classic hip-hop. 1998 had an influx of heavy material. 1991, and 1994. I knew exactly where I was to read a perfect rating of Nas’ Illmatic. We stared at the speakers — it was a mind-blowing moment. That was the last year where we treated hip-hop as fans, more than as people in the industry. We were still making our first record, and we dissected and analyzed it. Every record: Biggie’s record, Illmatic, GangStarr’s Hard To Earn, Tical, [Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth’s] The Main Ingredient. The first time we heard “Flava In Ya Ear,” that was like the last magic moment we had in hip-hop. You haven’t had one recently? Once you immerse yourself in the industry, you don’t see it from a fan’s perspective. We were still outsiders—our record didn’t come out until January of ’95. We were still fans. It was the worst of our professional careers, but the best of our fan career. Even though we weren’t established we still had enough juice to go to every record release party, every Wu-Tang party that came to town. Being the super fan to the ultimate, like, I’m not there yet—but one day we’ll make it.