Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson describes Mo’ Meta Blues as a memoir but that may lead you to believe that he writes about a more specific time period in his life than he does. In Mo’ Meta Blues, Questlove describes and discusses his entire life up until 2013, when the book was published. The book starts on Christmas Eve, 1973 and goes on from there. Mo’ Meta blues is not just a chronological account of Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s life. It is the chronological account of a musician and music-lover’s life. Throughout the book, Questlove flips through his record collection. He describes the memories he associates with certain pieces of music and what those associations mean to him. Anyone who loves music will identify with this aspect of the book and anyone who loves hip-hop or, more specifically, The Roots, will be entertained by Questlove’s stories. Richard Nichols, The Roots’ co manager has small written pieces throughout the book in the form of footnotes to set Questlove straight when his memory leads him astray. This book is not a piece on philosophy although sometimes it may seem as though it tries to be. Questlove touches on some philosophical ideas that he relates to his experiences but this is not what makes the book great. What makes the book great is the way Questlove describes his relationship with music and how that relationship changes over time. Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove is a fascinating book for anyone who loves music although the reader will find that Questlove’s occasional dive into the meaning of his experiences is a little slow.
As this book is chronological, the beginning of the book is mostly about Questlove’s relationship with music through records. He begins his relationship with music as a listener and appreciator rather than a major contributor, even though it is emphasized that he has been playing music for essentially his entire life. Questlove describes how he began playing the drums on Christmas Eve, 1973. This was clearly an important memory for him as the memory was one of his first and incredibly detailed. Ahmir specifically remembered the music that was playing in the background as he walked down stairs and saw the drum set sitting under the Christmas tree. He writes:
Donny Hathaway’s second album was playing in the background, the self-titled one with the covers of ‘A Song For You’ and ‘Magnificent Sanctuary Band’...I made my way over there. Of the four instruments, I gravitated toward the drums. (11)
Just a page later, Questlove describes an experience he has when he jumps out of the bathtub and runs straight into the radiator. Not only can he recall the song that was playing when he hit the radiator, he can recall the part of the song. Questlove describes Curtis Mayfield’s Freddie’s Dead this part as “ the modulated bridge where the horns come in” (12). For anybody who grew up with music, I think this type of memory is relatable. Specifically, being able to identify the music that was playing in the background (assuming music was playing) when something formative occurred. One may not be able to recall the music playing in the background as well as Ahmir Thompson can but music was always part of Ahmir Thompson’s experiences and for those who love music, it is descriptions like this in Mo’ Meta Blues that make the book so enjoyable.
While much of the Mo’ Meta Blues is spent describing Questlove’s experiences through music, some smaller parts of the book are spent on reflection. These opportunities taken for reflection seem squandered as they ask and attempt to answer questions one could write an entirely new book on, are rather vague, and are only loosely connected to the rest of the book. The added metaphors to these reflections do not clarify the point being made and even make it more confusing. This is particularly apparent towards the end of the book when Questlove attempts to reflect on his life so far (that is what the books about after all) using the shapes of the drums and drum sticks as inspiration.
Will the circle be unbroken? That’s not the only circle that’s a question. Every circle is. Lines are statements. Arrows are especially emphatic statements. They divide and they define. They count up and count down. Circles are more careful. They come around again. They overthink. (144)
This could have been a great addition if it connected with the rest of the book. It seems as though Questlove connected these thoughts to the book in his head and neglected to write that part down.
Mo’ Meta Blues is certainly worth the time. It tells the story of a man and his transition from appreciator and observer of music to active participant. He describes experiences and stories, not necessarily one-hundred percent factually but how he felt they occurred. This connects you to the experiences and to the author in a way which makes the book all the more enjoyable. While the reflection and contemplation of Questlove’s life so far may fall short, it does not tarnish the rest of the book. Anyone with a strong connection to and love for music should read this book.
Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove
by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Ben Greenman
Published June 18, 2013 by Grand Central Publishing Company