The Search for Creativity with Questlove

The Renaissance Man Interviews Creative People on Their Processes

Questlove
Questlove (Courtesy photo)

Questlove has many titles. Musician, bandleader, DJ, designer, producer, culinary entrepreneur, professor, musicologist and founding Kennedy Center Hip Hop Culture Council member. His titles are connected to being well-studied, adventurous and creative.

So why would Questlove need go on a trek to pull the covers off creativity in his new book “Creative Quest?” Perhaps he wanted to go back to his roots — pun intended — as he is the founder of music group and “Tonight Show” house band The Roots.

Questlove, whose birth name is Ahmir Khalib Thompson, is on a never-ending journey to unpack the essence of the creative process.

“Each creative person sits at the base of a tree whose branches stretch far and wide — to other fields, back through time — in ways that help to define and redefine their creative process,” the renowned drummer said in his book.

Questlove questioned his own creativity while breaking down the creativity of others during a discussion at the Kennedy Center with co-author Ben Greenman, who collaborated with Questlove on “Creative Quest.”

“We look at what the creative life is composed of and the various challenges that creative people face,” said Greenman, who also collaborated with Questlove for his memoir “Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove.”

Questlove is from a creative family. His late father, Lee Andrews, was the lead singer of a successful ’50s doo-wop group, and Questlove, his mother and sister toured with the group. It’s from his dad that Questlove said he learned everything about music.

When he was 13, Questlove filled in for the injured drummer in his dad’s group, though the early “gig” wasn’t exactly a chance to spread his wings creatively.

“It wasn’t necessarily about creativity,” he said. “I was learning a trade, it was the family business.”

Fast-forward years later, and Questlove now wears many hats, including a musician and producer who’s worked with many prominent artists. Sometimes, he said, he channels a bygone era when getting in the mood for a recording session.

“I am guided as much by the song I am playing as [I am by] the people around me — not to mention the people I am modeling myself on, intentionally,” Questlove said.

That’s one way he sparks his creativity, he said.

Looking at the end of the process is another approach that Questlove may take in thinking creatively. He references this in his book as visioning, productive imagining or, “The Thing I Did When I Was Younger That I Was Both Proud Of and Slightly Embarrassed By.”

He also looks at this as a form of role reversal: “When you make work, you are the creator, but also the eventual audience.”

The wisdom in “Creative Quest” can be used as a reference guide for stimulating one’s creativity. Questlove grabs ideas from musicians, comedians, filmmakers, politicians and other authors.

“If you feel like things aren’t going anywhere, hang out with people of different disciplines,” he said. “The takeaway isn’t necessarily to depart from your comfort zone to spark your creativity as much as it is to be around people who are discussing the process of having done that.”

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