Of all the stupid things we do with our phones, Instagram might be the worst. Not only has the app falsely convinced us all we're professional photographers, but it's done something even worse: It's encouraged our worst vainglorious tendencies. No one is Amaro-toning his or her real life. There are no 'Grammed photos of rashes or credit card statements; it's all fake, stylized versions of our day-to-day lives. We all should uninstall. Your Instagram profile? It should go. Mine? Definitely.
But Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, of hip-hop combo The Roots, can keep his.
Questlove's Instagram feed is a glorious thing, and when I'm not inanely taking pictures of trees in my neighborhood, I justify my being a part of Instagram by looking at Questlove's photos.
When Questlove posts a picture of his friends hanging out, they're Fred Armisen, Chris Rock, and Tyler the Creator. His "day at the office photos" feature Jim James rocking a saxophone and Beyoncé and Solange Knowles casually dancing around. His selfies are works of art, his beard and fro immaculately flowing in all directions at once. (Yeah, he can get away with that pick in his hair.) When he posts a picture of his food, it's no mere burger at some hip new organic bistro; it's a 19-course meal of sushi prepared by Jiro Ono, the ancient sushi master featured in the 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and the photos are accompanied by lyrical, flowing sentences:
"This was my life's path before me: a man whose tireless work ethic and drive in pursuit of perfection. I tell people all the time the ultimate occupation is the one you are willing to wake up at four a.m. for and go to bed at 3:59 a.m. with no complaints. It's about artistry and commitment to a craft. It's about how a human hides his pain and redirects it to a work of art."
That commitment to craft permeates Questlove's body of work. His deep-roots drumming and artistic direction defined the neo-soul era of the late '90s/early 2000s, when his Soulquarian collective blew the dust of classic R&B LPs in a modern setting, revitalizing classicist sounds with records by D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, Common, Jay-Z, Jill Scott, Bilal, and more.
He launched a music website, Okayplayer, in 1999, home to innovative music writing that spans nearly ever musical genre, and that expanded into a music label. He's produced records for Al Green, John Legend, Talib Kweli, and more.
He's accomplished all this while manning the drum kit for his full-band hip-hop group The Roots. This year, the band will release its eleventh studio effort, the quizzically titled & Then You Shoot Your Cousin, and and release a collaborative LP with British songwriter Elvis Costello (who's insisted on keeping the title a secret for now).
The joint record with Costello is a clear sign that The Roots riskiest career move -- becoming the house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon -- has worked out nicely. In addition to backing up host Fallon's musical forays, the Roots have performed with various musical guests like Big Boi, My Morning Jacket, Ice Cube, Bruce Springsteen, Public Enemy, and Costello. No offense to Paul Shaffer and crew, but The Roots aren't just "the hardest working band in late night"; they're the coolest.
The band's late-night success -- and parlaying that success into new artistic territory -- demonstrates why Questlove can get away with just about anything. Even Instagram. In fact, when he posts pictures of Tabasco Spicy Chocolate, especially Instagram.
The Roots are scheduled to perform Saturday, March 23, at McDowell Mountain Music Festival at Margaret T. Hance Park.
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