Questlove, Black Thought Talk Oscars Slap, Working With the Obamas – The Hollywood Reporter

For six hours a day, five days a week, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter can still be found in the halls of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, working on bits and pieces. The Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon and lead the show’s house band, The Roots, for its 13th year running. (The band itself has been around for nearly three decades.) But the hip-hop pioneers, friends since high school, spend this time getting an education in the entertainment industry, and it’s clear they pay attention in the classroom.

Early forays under his Two One Five production company resembled Hollywood veterans. In February, Trotter debuted original music No more black Off-Broadway with John Ridley. In March, Thompson took home an Academy Award Summer of the soul, his acclaimed documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival and his directorial debut. Next, Netflix and the Obamas will release the documentary Higher Ground offspring On October 21, the duo’s first production set outside the music world. The project tells the story of the last known ship to bring slaves to America. Zooming in from their respective corners of 30 Rock in mid-September, the collaborators — bouncing off each other’s ideas the way only childhood friends do — share their evolving priorities, creative struggles and why winning an Oscar can feel like “surfing a tsunami.”

Both of you have been cooperating since childhood. What’s the key to sustaining a long-term creative partnership?

Ahmeer Thompson I always question what acts do when success is on the horizon and they go it alone. Tariq and I knew early on that you need a team to bounce ideas off of. It probably equates to open marriage. You can go out on your own, get your rocks off, and do other creative things, but you’ll eventually come back home.

Tariq Trotter Roots is a collective, and I don’t know if it’s a one-size-fits-all formula. But it worked for us and kept us together.

Any group gets screwed from time to time. What was your last big disagreement?

Thompson There never was a Hatfield-McCoy scenario. (laughs.) And I’m not trying to present this as a rosy scenario because as Tariq can attest to on damn near every Roots album, I left the group for six weeks. But I come back, afro pick in hand, “Okay, what role do I play?” We are at an age where we are too mature and have too much therapy time to not know how to communicate.

offspringA Margaret Brown-directed documentary about the history of the slave ship Clotilda and its captives who later settled in Africa Town, Alabama, will air on Netflix.

Hollywood really likes to put people in boxes. Being so involved with music, do you find it hard to stick to other things?

Trotter Music-related storytelling is obviously our strong suit. But if you spend time building credibility, which I think we have, branching out into other areas comes naturally. Some of our first projects were music, followed by Amazon, Disney and iHart Summer of the soulBut our next plan, offspringMusic is the first thing that is not foundational.

Thompson In the same way that people only use 10 percent of their brains, I think people only use music at 5 percent of its potential. That musical pedigree helps us in ways that other creatives don’t. That makes us better storytellers.

That seems to be the difference between Black Woodstock — the version of the doc originally pitched and one with less respect for musical relevance in time for the Harlem Cultural Festival — and Summer of the soul, this is the doc you made. am i right

Thompson I had no experience going into it. And my producer said to me, “Let’s treat it like a DJ gig. How do you do that? ” So I did Summer of the soul It was like a DJ gig. It’s the kind of perspective that I don’t think a traditional filmmaker would think about. So, yes, clearly the musician did Summer of the soul. I feel that any project we take up has a musicality to it.

The two have taken a break The Tonight Show To do other things over the years but regularly put in full weeks at the NBC flagship.

Sean Gallagher/NBC

how offspringAbout the last known slave ship to come to America where Doc and its surviving passengers settled, your first non-musical project?

Thompson My connection to it is literal. Only 1 percent of African Americans can remember their ship, their family name and their origins. But I appeared in Skip Gates’. Finding your roots And my great-grandfather, Charles “Cudjo” Lewis, was on the last ship and started Africatown. Skip continued to give me updates and finally I got an email saying he was doing a documentary on Africa Town. It is absolutely my duty. I want to know everything about what he went through and what he developed.

Higher Ground has acquired the movie rights. Does that come with a call from Barack and Michelle Obama?

Thompson Oh, we’re tired of him calling. (laughs.) No, really, he left me cold at the Sundance part Summer of the soul. They are our old friends now.

How have your incoming calls changed in the wake of the Oscars?

Thompson It was surreal. But timing is everything, and the amount of silence I experienced during the quarantine portion of the pandemic really helped me. We started this band straight out of high school. Since then it has been a chaotic and constant thought. After the Oscars, it was jarring as it was cold call after cold call — Steven Spielberg, Elton John, Oprah Winfrey and beyond. It’s like surfing in a tsunami. You have to keep your head on straight because I wasn’t comfortable that first month. So I went off the grid to relax in Mexico, even though it was hard for me to do nothing.

Nielsen Bernard/Getty Images

How did you process the moment before your win? The slap dominated post-Oscar conversations for a while.

Thompson I’m the one person who doesn’t really know what’s going on. I was sitting next to him [Attica director] Stanley Nelson. I was up against the man who taught me what a documentary was! Without it, you are not in the right frame of mind. Either my life is going to change or I’m going to have a great party at Jay-Z and Beyoncé. I was very far from Will [Smith] And Chris [Rock] were passing by. When I won, nothing was real for the next 72 hours. That’s close to the maximum one can get without taking the pill.

Development can be a long and frustrating process. What is the learning curve like?

Trotter We learned that there is no rubber stamping. You can’t phone it in, and that means carving out time and putting proper focus into each project. We have to consider what our brand is about.

Thompson We learned to think critically about what our art is. Often, artists make art, but no one thinks critically about what literature means or what arrangement means. The same goes from a scripted perspective or a directed perspective. Knowing how to dissect these things and explain them to other people makes us better.

You had a long run with Fallon on both The Late Show And The Tonight Show. How has it informed your career?

Trotter It became a big platform. And talk about proximity – we’ve met everyone. The best come through these halls.

Thompson We love our work The Tonight Show, and we use our creativity to the end. But the best part of it is not letting any opportunity pass – always watching every writer, producer, comedian, chef, whatever. This is an Ivy League education.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in the Sept. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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