More Culture:

August 10, 2023

Questlove writing book about hip-hop history, plans to release it in 2024

This year is the genre's 50th anniversary. To celebrate, the Roots drummer, who has previously written two music history books, is writing another

Though Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson has spent this year celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop by curating a Grammy Awards tribute and stacking the Roots Picnic lineup with beloved artists from the genre, the musician is carrying the festivities into 2024 with the release of a book chronicling hip-hop's decades-long history. 

The drummer of the Roots revealed earlier this week that he's writing "Hip-Hop Is History," a book recalling the biggest moments in hip-hop over the last five decades. The book, Questlove's seventh, will be released under his publishing imprint, AUWA Books, in the first quarter of 2024.

Questlove has, in many ways, cemented himself as a music historian. When he published his memoir, "Mo' Meta Blues," in 2013, he wrote that the "single most influential moment in the history of hip-hop" was an episode of "The Cosby Show" where Stevie Wonder guest-starred and demonstrated how to create a sample.

By the time the Philadelphia native published "Music Is History" in 2021, he already had a reputation as a music history enthusiast. That reputation was made even more clear with the premiere of his Oscar-winning directorial debut "Summer of Soul" that same year, which showed forgotten footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, including live performances from Sly & The Family Stone and Nina Simone. 

"No one asked me to, but I'm carrying that burden," Questlove told Variety. "And for all those who are present and accounted for, there is something to celebrate with hip-hop's 50th. There may be a lot of water under that bridge. Our disdain for looking in the rearview mirror is entrenched in pain and trauma. But as a child of legacy and nostalgia culture, I want to be the GPS for people to celebrate that thing called hip-hop." 

In an essay published in Time on Thursday, Questlove described hip-hop as his sibling, as he's just two years older than the genre itself. He's the son of Arthur Lee Andrews Thompson, a singer who led Lee Andrews & the Hearts, a 1950s doo-wop group, and Jacquelin Thompson, who (with Arthur Thompson) formed the Philly-based soul group Congress Alley

Questlove told Variety that he's in the "legacy business" in part due to his parents' musical background and his knowledge of the industry and its most beloved acts. That came in handy when scheduling performances for the Grammys' 50th anniversary celebration.

The tribute is available to stream in three parts on the Recording Academy's YouTube channel. During rehearsals, Questlove noted that some of the artists had not interacted with each other in decades, and getting them together was not an easy task. When two acts dropped out at the last minute, Questlove gave LL Cool J more airtime and brought Lil Uzi Vert out from the audience to perform. 

In the Time essay, Questlove talks about a moment that he considers a "funeral" in hip-hop's history — the 1995 Source Awards. By this point, Questlove and Tariq "Black Thought" Thompson had already formed the Roots and released two studio albums — 1993's "Organix" and "Do You Want More?!!!??!" earlier that year. 

Questlove recalls attending the awards show and knowing, almost instinctively, that something was going to happen. At the time, tensions were already building between feuding hip-hop locales, and some new rivalries were forming between rappers from different parts of New York City, where the genre originated in 1973. 

He recalls taking his date and running out of the theater as Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg were announced as artist and producer of the year. Within the next two years, two of the genre's biggest stars, the West Coast's Tupac Shakur and the East Coast's Notorious B.I.G., would be shot and killed within six months of one another. 

"Getting people to acknowledge beauty is a task," Questlove told Variety. "Some days we are the Blues Brothers on a mission from God, going to each person, hyping them up. But hip-hop is like soul food — making something tasty out of this trash that we have been getting."