Ahmir Khalib Thompson (born January 20, 1971), known professionally as Questlove (stylized as ?uestlove), is an American percussionist, multi-instrumentalist, DJ, music journalist, record producer, and occasional actor. He is best known as the drummer and joint frontman (with Black Thought) for the Grammy Award-winning band The Roots. The Roots have been serving as the in-house band for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon after February 14, 2014, continuing the role they served throughout the entire 969-episode run of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. He is additionally one of the producers of the Broadway phenomenon, Hamilton.
He has produced recordings for artists including Elvis Costello, Common, D'Angelo, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Bilal, Jay-Z, Nikka Costa, and more recently, Al Green, Amy Winehouse, and John Legend. He is a member of the production teams the Soulquarians, The Randy Watson Experience, The Soultronics, and The Grand Wizzards.
Ahmir Khalib Thompson was born in Philadelphia on January 20, 1971. His father was Lee Andrews of Lee Andrews & the Hearts, a 50s doo-wop group. His mother, Jacquelin Thompson, together with his father, was additionally part of the Philadelphia-based soul group Congress Alley. His parents didn't want to leave him with babysitters, so they took him on tour with them. He grew up in backstages of doo-wop shows. By the age of seven, Thompson began drumming on stage at shows, and by 13, had become a musical director.
Questlove's parents then enrolled him at the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. By the time he graduated, he had founded a band called The Square Roots (later dropping the word "square") with his friend Tariq Trotter (Black Thought). Questlove's classmates at the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts included Boyz II Men, jazz bassist Christian McBride, jazz guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco, and singer Amel Larrieux. He attended senior prom with Larrieux. After graduating from high school, he took jazz and composition classes at Settlement Music School.
Thompson began performing on South Street in Philadelphia using drums, while Tariq rhymed over his beats and rhythms. Thompson and Jay Lonick, a childhood friend, were known for improvisational "call and response" percussion battles with plastic buckets, crates, and shopping carts. This style translated into Thompson's usual drumset arrangement, with most drums and cymbals positioned at waist level, emulating his original street setups.
1993–96: Beginnings with The Roots
The Roots' lineup was soon completed, with Questlove on percussion, Tariq Trotter and Malik B on vocals, Josh Abrams (Rubber Band) on bass (who was replaced by Leonard Hubbard in 1994), and Scott Storch on keyboards. While the group was performing a show in Germany, they recorded an album entitled Organix, released by Relativity Records in 1993.
1997–2003: Breakthrough, Soulquarians era, and increased output
In 1999, The Roots had mainstream success with "You Got Me" (featuring Erykah Badu); a song which would earn the band the Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for 2000. The song helped fuel the success of their Things Fall Apart album, which has after been hailed as a classic, eventually selling platinum.
He additionally served as executive producer for D'Angelo's 2000 album Voodoo, Slum Village's album Fantastic, Vol. 2 and Common's albums Like Water for Chocolate and Electric Circus. Besides the aforementioned albums, he has additionally contributed as a drummer or producer to Erykah Badu's Baduizm and Mama's Gun, Dilated Peoples' Expansion Team, Blackalicious's Blazing Arrow, Bilal's 1st Born Second, N*E*R*D's Fly or Die, Joshua Redman's Momentum, and Zap Mama's Axel Norman Ancestry In Progress, Fiona Apple's Extraordinary Machine, and Zack De La Rocha's currently unreleased solo material.
In 2001, he collaborated as the drummer for The Philadelphia Experiment, a collaborative instrumental jazz album featuring Christian McBride and Uri Caine, and the DJ of the compilation Questlove Presents: Babies Making Babies, released on Urban Theory Records in 2002. He played drums on Christina Aguilera's song "Loving Me 4 Me" for her 2002 album Stripped. In 2002, he and The Roots released the critically acclaimed Phrenology, which went gold.
In 2003, he played drums on John Mayer's song "Clarity" from his second album Heavier Things. He additionally arranged and drummed on Joss Stone's cover of the White Stripes' "Fell in Love with a Girl".
2004–present: Continued output and additional media endeavors
In 2004, The Roots released The Tipping Point, which contained a more mainstream sound, allegedly due to demands from Interscope Records. The album sold 400,000 copies. In 2004, Questlove appeared in Jay-Z's Fade to Black. In addition to appearing in the documentary portion of the film, Questlove was the drummer/musical director for all portions of the show with a live band. In 2005, Questlove appeared along with such luminaries as Madonna, Iggy Pop, Bootsy Collins, and Little Richard in a television commercial for the Motorola ROKR phone. Questlove additionally appears for a short clip in the 2005 film, The Longest Yard.
In 2006, Questlove appeared in the film Dave Chappelle's Block Party as well as a couple of skits on Chappelle's Show, including the Tupac "The Lost Episodes" skit and a skit featuring John Mayer wherein Questlove performs in a barber shop, inducing the occupants to dance and rap. With the exception of The Fugees and Jill Scott, Questlove served as the drummer at the 2004 Brooklyn street concert and was the musical director for the entire show. Questlove was given an Esky for Best Scribe in Esquire magazine's 2006 Esky Music Awards in the April issue. In 2006, Questlove was one of a handful of musicians hand-picked by Steve Van Zandt to back Hank Williams Jr. on a new version of "All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight" for the season premiere (and formal ESPN debut) of Monday Night Football. Along with his fellow Motorola ROKR commercial co-stars, Bootsy Collins and Little Richard, Questlove's bandmates included Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick), Joe Perry (Aerosmith), Charlie Daniels, and Bernie Worrell.
In 2007, Questlove co-produced with VH1's The Score winning producer Antonio "DJ Satisfaction" Gonzalez, from The Maniac Agenda, the theme to VH1's Hip Hop Honors 2007. Questlove joined Ben Harper and John Paul Jones for the Bonnaroo SuperJam on June 16, 2007, to play a 97-minute set. In 2007 he provided the foreword for the book Check the Technique.
On March 2, 2009, Questlove and the Roots began their run as house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
In late 2009, while serving as an associate producer of the hit Broadway play Fela!, he recruited Jay-Z to come on board as a producer. It was reported that Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith have additionally signed on as producers.
In January 2010, he was writing material with British singer Duffy for her second album. He has been featured in a commercial for Microsoft's short-lived mobile phone, the Kin. In 2010, he made a cameo in the music video of Duck Sauce's song "Barbra Streisand", and with The Roots released the album Dilla Joints with renditions of producer J Dilla's music. He contributed drums to the song "You've Got a Lot to Learn", which was recorded for the self-titled third studio album by Evanescence, but didn't appear on the final release.
Questlove was planning to collaborate with Amy Winehouse before her death in July 2011. He said "We're Skype buddies, and she wants to do a project with Mos and me. Soon as she gets her visa thing together, that's gonna happen." Rolling Stone named Questlove #2 in the 50 Top Tweeters in Music. In June 2011, Questlove played drums alongside The Roots bassist Owen Biddle for Karmin's cover of Nicki Minaj's "Super Bass." Questlove placed eighth in the Rolling Stone Readers Pick for Best Drummers of all Time.
He currently performs with The Roots on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, continuing his duties from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon where he occasionally performed solos titled 're-mixing the clips' where he drew on his production and DJ abilities to dub video clips, cue audio samples in rhythm, and play drum breaks simultaneously.
On June 18, 2013 Questlove released a memoir, Mo' Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove.
On October 22, 2013, Harper Design published the Questlove authored book, Soul Train: The Music, Dance, and Style of a Generation.
Questlove released his third book, Something To Food About: Exploring Creativity with Innovative Chefs, along with co-author Ben Greenman and photographer Kyoko Hamada, which was published by Clarkson Potter Books on April 12, 2016.
Film and television appearances
In 2005, Questlove appeared with The Roots in Dave Chappelle's Block Party and the following year, he appeared in the popular music film, Before the Music Dies. His latest appearances include Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest and documentary The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (2010) for which he won the Swedish Guldbagge Award for best music together with Om'Mas Keith.
In 2013, Questlove appeared as himself on The Eric Andre Show as a part of the show's band.
In 2015, Questlove appeared on Parks and Recreation as Levondrious, the estranged brother of Retta's character Donna Meagle. Questlove additionally appeared in a documentary film that depicts the life and death of Amy Winehouse called Amy.
In 2016, Questlove appeared in the film Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping as himself.
Questlove frequently changes his equipment, but he has been known to use the following.
- Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson (SAT) Signature Drumsticks
- 14" A Zildjian & CIE Vintage crash Hi-hats
- 20" Oriental Crash of Doom
- 24" K Light Ride
- 001 April Writing Desk Series
As of June 2012, he endorses Ludwig Drums