Nobody wants to be the water boy. They all want to be Michael Jordan. So they leave to go where they think they have the best shot of becoming the biggest celebrity, he said, rather than carrying the water somewhere and growing into something great. It sounds like a euphemism for creative talent leaving one city — say, Philadelphia — for another — say, predictably, New York.
That’s about what Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson, the celebrated Roots drummer and musical director, said as he left the Underground Arts Sunday night at the same time as Technically Philly. His words, shared fluidly, with his sweatshirt hood up and without looking back as he walked up the narrow stairway, were in response to a casual prompt: can Philadelphia be relevant on a national stage for creating creative talent?
His answer can carry to just about any niche, industry or community.
“You need subculture to create stars,” he said, before he walked out onto Callowhill Street, opened the passenger side door for a friend, got into his car and left the third annual ‘Future of Music’ event, organized by Little Giant Media and WXPN as part of and in partnership with Philly Tech Week Presented by AT&T.
Before then, Questlove spoke deeply on going from analog to digital, his interest in social media and how web culture has changed the industry beyond the widely discussed distribution mechanism, as part of a one-hour interview with WXPN’s Bruce Warren.
A couple memorable thoughts from Questlove:
- On reluctantly making the switch to digital recording and distribution: “How do you get great creative results with too much comfort?” he asked, referring to the value of constraint.
- When did Questlove join Twitter? Questlove said he was reading a Philadelphia magazine article on ‘Drexel scammers that used it’ on a flight to Italy and joined the service to ‘play around’ soon after. He’s taken it more seriously as his following as grown. [Editor’s Note: Questlove joined Twitter in May 2008 to be precise and we couldn’t find what Philly mag story he could have meant, though he seemed to be referring to the ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ pair of former university students.]
- Web virality makes short term sensations — like Gagnam Style and Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’ — much more possible, but great artists still rise through those new channels. ‘You still have to have the goods,’ he said.
- Questlove is teaching a class on creative inspiration at NYU. Why, Technically Philly wondered, didn’t the University of Pennsylvania or another Philly-area school approach him?
The Questlove Q&A was preceded by short presentations from the founders of SoulSpasm, theFuture.FM and RapGenuis.com. Afterward, Underground Arts went from club-style tables and chairs to open-format DJ dance show, featuring Pow Pow, LushLife and others.
In partnership with WXPN, Little Giant Media founder Tayyib Smith orchestrated the event, which last year featured RJD2 and KingBritt.