Questlove On The Benefits Of Silence, Controversy, And Chemistry

The drummer, producer, author, and frontman for the Roots describes how he continues to find new rhythms at different points in his career.

Questlove On The Benefits Of Silence, Controversy, And Chemistry
The key to creativity, Questlove says, is silence—“to be in a quiet place where you can hear your thoughts.” [Photo: Herring & Herring; Set Designer: Wunderkind]

Whether re-orchestrating top hits with classroom instruments on The Tonight Show or routinely exploring the culinary world for inspiration, Questlove—who has a new book coming out this spring—has a penchant for steering his career into spaces that run counter to what’s expected of him. And that, he says, has been his fuel in fighting creative complacency.


Go Quiet

Questlove says that the key component for creativity, “which I don’t think many people get nowadays, is silence. That’s really, really important—to be in a secluded, quiet place where you can hear your thoughts. When we get bored, we pull out our phones and [get] instant gratification. I embrace the idea of being bored and just sitting around. That’s when the best ideas come to you.”

Let Controversy Motivate You, Not Paralyze You

When the Roots became the house band for The Tonight Show in 2009, the move provoked a bit of backlash. “Some website said, ‘This is a travesty! This is going to be like watching Miles Davis be a street musician.’ I have to remind people that when the Roots came out, I was wearing Birkenstocks and opening up for, like, Snoop. We had to prove ourselves.” With The Tonight Show, “I wanted to be underestimated so that we could rise to the occasion and prove that this could actually be seen as cool.”

Apply Chemistry

After two decades of playing 250 live shows per year with the Roots, Questlove is attuned to seeing collaboration everywhere. “At a place like [Manhattan restaurant] Eleven Madison Park, they’re in such a free experimental phase right now. To watch them in the test kitchen working on next year’s menu and racking their brains trying to figure out how to make this acid mix with the sugar and put this salt in there, the science of it, that’s the best part. You don’t think of a chef having a jam session, but that’s what they do. I’m starting to see parallels between all these worlds.”

This story was adapted from the Fast Company Innovation Festival.

About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America" where he was the social media producer.