By New Times
By Derek Askey
By Mark Deming
By Serene Dominic
By Jason Keil
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Jeff Moses
By Serene Dominic
So when asked if he sees any difference between playing for a dance crowd and playing for a hip-hop crowd, ?uestlove jokes, "One just prefers Ecstasy just a little bit more!" After laughing it off, he once again ruefully ponders the limited perspective he sees nowadays in hip-hop culture. "It depends on what your definition of hip-hop is. This is only because the powers that be don't really treat hip-hop as an art form. Hip-hop is treated like a drug game, a quick way out or easy cash, so as a result, there's really no emphasis placed on historical beginnings. If you're a 20-year-old now, then Kriss Kross probably introduced hip-hop to you, or Hammer or Vanilla Ice. And that was when you were 8, 9, 10 years old. I respect hip-hop as an art form. I study the whole history of it. A jazz guy won't ignore Louis Armstrong or King Oliver. To think that, 'Okay, it started with Miles Davis and that's it' -- that's why we're in the state we're in right now, of disarray."
Of course, dance music culture itself is facing its own demons, especially regarding the twin battles being waged between club and rave promoters in New Orleans and Panama City, Florida, and the DEA. And while Weber is quick to note that Area: One was not a rave, she also acknowledges the added responsibility promoters need to take nowadays, both in protecting their patrons and defending themselves against drug-war tyranny. "I've spent enough times at raves with Moby and going to five, six, seven years of doing the underground parties to know that it's a really, really hard thing to put on in this country. And as much as I support everything like that, it's really hard to find the people that put these events on that are really trying to look after the audience as well. And time after time, they're disappointed with the talent that doesn't come or not being told the truth in advertising or permits being withdrawn at the last moment. And I'm not saying that the promoters are the villains. Many times, they're the victims."
Weber expresses particular concern for Robert "Donnie" Estopinal, the New Orleans rave promoter who was indicted under the Crackhouse Law for facilitating a space for the buying and selling of drugs (Estopinal has not been re-indicted since his co-defendants entered into a plea bargain, but may still go to court). Weber declares, "Donnie is a good guy. He has always been there for us. He has always been there for Moby. He has always been there for this company, and we have tried to be there for him. I think what has happened to him is completely unfair. Not knowing all the ins and outs of the case, it certainly sounds like he's being railroaded. So we're all very concerned about that. We're hoping that something like [Area: One] will help. And he can come to us anytime. We're there to support him in any way we can."
In the meantime, ?uestlove sees very little interest in hip-hop for a real partnership with dance music culture. Perhaps seeing the grass being a little bit greener on the other side of the DJ booth, he feels that electronica may be able to avoid the pitfalls that he sees overtaking hip-hop.
"I think dance music can learn from hip-hop, to see what the downfall of the hip-hop culture has become and how to avoid it," he says. "A lot of brothers are put out of work because of sampling laws. If you're Pete Rock and you are known for your clever use of samples, and now sampling is basically illegal, unless you're a millionaire and are able to afford those things. That's the handicap of Pete Rock. Same thing for De La Soul. And the public doesn't understand. They say, 'Oh, why can't they make another record like Three Feet High and Rising? Or Public Enemy, it would be great if they could come back, but those records are illegal now. We have to find different alternatives. Hip-hop has basically been dissected and used again as a marketing tool. The controversial hip-hoppers are the hip-hoppers that are always on MTV. People don't treat it as an art form.
"I don't think that black people in general are all that interested in the art of it. Very few blacks are interested in the value or the art reference. And that's the sad truth. Black people are great innovators of music, but they don't believe in historical preservation of the music, and as a result, it becomes disposable. Look at Das Efex; they put into high gear a new form of music only for everyone to plagiarize and copy, plagiarize and copy, leaving them no choice but to abandon what they invented, only for it to fall apart."
So where does this leave the Roots, who are already seven songs into their new LP?
"That leaves us nowhere. We're the same group we've always been. We've never been swayed by the marketplace," ?uestlove insists. "If it's ready for us, it's ready for us. Whatever goes around comes back around. But now, I guess because everybody's having neo-soul fever and all of these new soul artists are coming out, then the pendulum is swinging our way again. But on the real, none of that sways us. As a result, I doubt I'll be living in a 30-room mansion. But I'll die at peace knowing I did something that I truly believed in."