During a conversation with Mark Ronson on THE FADER Uncovered, Questlove recalls the “implosion” of MCA Records which left The Roots’ career in limbo. Dre’s good friend and business partner, Jimmy Iovine, gave Dr. Dre the duty of deciding which acts would be transferred to Geffen-Interscope and Dre decided to keep eight acts including The Roots.
“We were without an island. The way that I heard the story went down was Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine had a breakfast meeting. Jimmy basically let Dre control the MCA guillotine. Okay, who do we save? Who don’t we save? I remember, eight of us got saved: Mary, Common. I remember our name being last on that list,” Quest said around the conversation’s 53-minute mark. “The way that the email came to us is like that high school musical, you look to see if you made the part.”
Help continued to come from unexpected places for The Roots. After leaving Geffen-Interscope, Jay-Z signed the group to Def Jam while he was the label’s president. Although they eventually forged a great relationship, Questlove was hesitant to work directly with Hov because he thought his fans would see it as selling out to a commercial artist.
“It’s so weird. In 2001, there was still this hip-hop apartheid, church and state separation thing between artists. Backpackers didn’t take kindly to commercial rappers. Commercial rappers looked at us like broke haters,” he explained before detailing how director dream hampton and The Simpsons helped them become friends.
“What’s weird is for a lot of people, September 11 is the day where a lot of us just self-soothed to The Blueprint by just listening to it over and over and over again, just to get our minds off of what was happening. I hit up dream hampton. I was like, ‘Yo, don’t tell nobody, but I think this Blueprint record… but don’t tell no one.’ She’s like, ‘Ahmir, you got to let me tell Jay this.’ I said, ‘No, no, no, no, no.’ Because to my mind, he’s like, ‘Oh, he’s the devil, commercial rapper.’ It’s like, ‘No, no, no, no, don’t do that.’ She’s like, “Ahmir, I got to get you out your own way. I’m telling Jay this, and you’re going to accept it,” he recounted.
After hampton told Jay-Z that Questlove liked The Blueprint, Hov requested to meet him. Yet, for days Quest ducked Jay-Z and his phone calls because he assumed he was the same guy from the Kit Kat Club and the “Big Pimpin’” video. Finally, Jigga was able to get Questlove on the phone and he realized that they’re more similar than he thought.
“Finally, I gave in and he disarmed me in two minutes. He doesn’t remember this. He made a Troy McClure Simpsons reference,” Questlove said. “It was either a monorail reference… it wasn’t Lisa needs braces, but it was a deep Conan-era Simpsons reference that he made. … I was like, ‘Yo, he’s a nerd. He’s like me.’ I was amazed.”
Take a listen to the full conversation below.