TIME Music

Questlove on Iggy Azalea: “Black People Have to Come to Grips That Hip-Hop Is a Contagious Culture”

The Roots' Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson
The Roots' Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson. Matt Rourke—AP

The Roots' drummer talks Beyoncé, Sia and why "Fancy" is "a game-changer" for hip-hop

Television is keeping Questlove busy. The Roots drummer and member of The Tonight Show house band is also the executive producer of SoundClash, a new music show premiering Wednesday night on VH1 and Palladia. Inspired by Jamaican sound clashing and the classic music programming of his youth, Questlove recruited top artists like Ed Sheeran, Fall Out Boy, Sia and T.I. to share the stage, strip down their biggest hits and cover their favorite performers to get “out of their comfort zones,” as he explains.

Questlove talked to TIME about his vision for the show and, perhaps most importantly, what he thinks is the official Song of the Summer.

Where’d you get the idea for this show?

During the time I was constructing [my memoir] the Mo’ Meta Blues book, my business manager got to the part of the book where I was explaining that my parents used to wake me up at 12:30. I was only allowed to watch music programs or PBS as a kid, but the thing was, a lot of those music shows came on after midnight. So as a result, I’d have to be in bed at 8 at night, but my parents would wake me up at 12:30 so I could watch Midnight Special and Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert and Soul Train and the second song on Saturday Night Live.

He was like, “I know that in your head, you have this stubborn M.O. that everything you do in life has to be associated with you being a producer and recording artist, but do you ever think your true calling is your passion, which is developing music shows? Because that’s all you talk about!” I carry 10 terabytes of hard drives with me wherever I go. I have every episode of Soul Train in my backpack because you just never know when you have to show somebody. I’m that guy that has every reference in the book.

He was like, “What would your dream show be?” I was thinking Midnight Special was my favorite, like the multiple stage setup. A lot of those acts were self-contained. Steve Miller used to perform by himself. The Main Ingredient used to perform by themselves. KC and the Sunshine Band used to perform by themselves. The Commodores once backed Frankie Valli, which is kind of incredible, at least in my 9-year-old eyes. So as a result, I said, “What if we have a show that took artists out of their comfort zone?” They’re in a big, giant airport hanger and there’s three stages. You surround the audience so even the person in the back row will eventually be front-row once their artist performs.

It’s sort of like Jamaican sound clashing. You do different rounds. Round one is the artist doing their song, round two could be a stripped down version of their song or a cover song. Maybe round three, you put Chris Martin with someone like Odd Future. And you take Earl Sweatshirt, what happens if he goes with Imagine Dragons? That was the mission. As we get further on into the episodes, I would like to go more extreme, have people come out of their comfort zones and do crazy collaborations.

Pop artists covering their peers in this way obviously has a long history — Live Lounge on BBC Radio 1, the “ironic” cover of a rap song that goes viral. Why do people love seeing these kinds of performances?

We live in a viral society. A lot of that is done for the irony. When you do something ironic, it gets a viral response. When Alanis Morissette did “My Humps”? It was sort of that response. It’s also passive aggressive and mean-spirited. The thing is, you’re doing it for humorous intent. If you had one chance in life to really put your best foot forward, you’re going to sing that song that you’re really known for. Some people do it just so they can lift the veil on themselves. That’s why we did The Tonight Show. So many people were looking at us like, “God, you guys are so damn serious all the time. Are you guys even human?” So I felt like doing The Tonight Show allows us to be human. Maybe people do ironic cover songs as a way to show that they’re human. I want people to do it because, “This is an influence.” Watching Jack White sing “Jolene” or watching Christina Aguilera sing “I Will Always Love You,” that, to me, is a serious form of showing where your roots come from.

Is there an art to picking a cover song?

There’s different options. What I don’t want to do is scare people away. Initially out the gate, we’ve scared a few people. You also have to understand, we live in a society where a lot of people rely more on their Mac computers than they do having an 8-piece rhythm section. We wanted to offer more options: if you want to do a cover a song, do a cover song. If you want to do a stripped down version — the fact that Ed Sheeran can probably be more effective with just his guitar than with a full rhythm section? That, to me, is what the show is all about.

You could put somebody in any kind of situation. What would happen if you were to put Pharrell with just a string section and no drums? What would happen? That’s kind of how the Roots had to live their lives in our 20 year career. The idea of having to adjust. We’re opening for Soundgarden tonight? We have to adjust the show. We’re opening for Jill Scott tonight? We might have to adjust the show. We’re opening for Chris Rock tonight? We might have to adjust the show. Having to collaborate with a lot of artists, doing it every night, to me, it’s easy as breathing. The hardest thing for us to do in the world now is just a regular, straight-no-chaser Roots song. Our life has been opening for acts that you would never in your wildest dreams think that we would open for. You kind of have to be smart to know that for a bunch of Germans watching Johnny Cash, you can’t do no rap cliche: “Throw your hands in the air!” You can’t do that! It’s always been about adjusting and being prepared for any situation, and I want to bring that to TV.

Do you handpick all the bands?

Well, the initial episodes we did were really based on our personal relationships. We have a great relationship with T.I. [and] Patrick of Fall Out Boy — that dude is a musical nerd brother from another mother. Ed Sheeran, I’m shocked that he even knows that we exist. That’s not even false modesty. It’s kind of weird living an under-the-radar career without an obvious five-million seller, and yet these people come up and say, “Man, I love your music so much, I grew up on it.” “Oh, you know who we are?” A lot of these artists are people we knew on The Tonight Show or in our everyday life.

Sia is an interesting choice — she doesn’t seem to like being on stage.

I did not know how we were going to get through that. I was shocked! That was my first feeling of, oh, I really am an executive producer! I came up with an idea, they actually listened to it and then did it. It’s kind of weird, her quest for anti-stardom and her method of doing it is actually bringing her more attention than not doing it. But more power to her for her Wizard of Oz. We said, “Okay, what if we have a background singer in front of her, and she’s in the back somewhere?” I’ll be honest, I thought we were going to lose her. But that was my first call of action. “We might have a problem with Sia!” But what do I know? I’m giving myself a lot of credit. Maybe that was her plan all along, but I definitely called that moment.

Get More:

Sia, Sheeran and Grouplove all cover “Drunk in Love” together, as many artists have done before. What draws people to that song?

Beyoncé is one of these types of artists that is in such a sweet spot. She owns this decade. I wake up in the morning and look online, okay, on Gawker, blah blah is covering “Halo.” She’s just one of those artists that’s magnetic like that. Even if it’s done in a silly notion, it speaks to her power.

What’s your take on the proper spelling of surfboard?

[Laughs] There has to be a T at the end! In my head, surfboart is spelled like surfboard, but the T replaces the D at the end.

Have you weighed in on an official Song of the Summer?

I’m really caught in between, because this is what you gotta understand: I’m a DJ, and I’ve already established before on Twitter and elsewhere that you gotta know what the difference is between a good song and a bad song. Songs that I consider personally bad are also effective, and songs that I think are great don’t stick. For me, I think it’s a crime that Chromeo is not up there, because their level of pop songs — aw man, it’s everything I could ever want. It isn’t sticking. I want “Jealous” to win so bad, but it’s obvious “Fancy” is pretty much ruling the summer.

Are you pro- or anti-Iggy Azalea?

Here’s the thing: the song is effective and catchy as hell, and it works. Just the over-annunciation of “hold you down”? [Laughs] It makes me chuckle because all I can see is my assistant holding a brush in the mirror and singing it.

I’m caught in between. And I defend it. I see false Instagram posts like, “She said the N-word! She said the N-word!” I’ll call people out — “Yo, don’t troll.” I know you’re ready to give your 42-page dissertation on theGrio about why this is culture vulture-ism. You know, we as black people have to come to grips that hip-hop is a contagious culture. If you love something, you gotta set it free. I will say that “Fancy,” above any song that I’ve ever heard or dealt with, is a game-changer in that fact that we’re truly going to have to come to grips with the fact that hip-hop has spread its wings.

And to tell the truth, I was saying this last year, I don’t think it’s any mistake that four or five of my favorite singers are from Australia. Like between Hiatus Kaiyote, there’s a bunch I can name for you right now, but I don’t think it’s a mistake that a lot of of my favorite artists are coming from Down Under. A lot of them more soulful than what we’re dealing with now. When you think soul music and Aretha Franklin and the Baptist-born singer, that’s sort of an idea in the past. As black people, we’re really not in the church as we used to be, and that’s reflecting in the songs now.

I’m not going to lie to you, I’m torn between the opinions on the Internet, but I’mma let Iggy be Iggy. It’s not even politically correct dribble. The song is effective. I’m in the middle of the approximation of the annunciation, I’ll say. Part of me hopes she grows out of that and says it with her regular dialect — I think that would be cooler. But, yeah, “Fancy” is the song of the summer.

TIME Television

This Doesn’t Look Like a Billboard for Better Call Saul! But It Is

Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman, Michael McKean as Chuck - Better Call Saul _ Season 1, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC
Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman, Michael McKean as Chuck. Ursula Coyote—AMC

Take a closer look

The billboard pictured below is a real billboard that an Instagram user saw on I-25 in Albuquerque, N.M., and at first glance, it doesn’t look like it has a whole lot to do with Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul! But once you remember what we’ve learned about the upcoming series, expected to premiere in 2015, however, the connection is clear. The show will be set in 2002, while Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) was still known as Jimmy McGill.

The phone number listed on the billboard also works, so feel free to give it a ring if you’re craving a message from Saul Goodman Jimmy McGill.

[via Vulture]


TIME celebrity

Chris Pratt Gets Up During Interview to French Braid an Intern’s Hair

Further proving that he's the boyfriend of your dreams


A few months back, actor Chris Pratt showed off his admittedly very impressive French braiding skills on Instagram. In a recent interview with Entertainment Tonight, the Guardians of the Galaxy star got a chance to prove that he’s really the exceptional hairstylist he claims to be. Halfway through the otherwise average interview, an intern came out to put Pratt to the test. He gamely begins to fashion her hair into a braid as he carries on with the interview — and while he says the result isn’t perfect, it looks pretty good to us.

Somehow we just can’t imagine Andy Dwyer being able to pull this off.


New If I Stay Trailer Ups the Romance

Cue the tears


Fans of Gayle Forman’s young adult novel If I Stay got a closer look at the book’s movie adaptation Tuesday, after the film’s second trailer dropped. The story follows Mia (Chloë Grace Moretz), a cello player who is stuck in limbo after a tragic car accident, and must choose between life without her parents or death without her boyfriend.

The new trailer focuses on the idea of teenage love being ever-inconvenient, particularly in the face of death, a familiar subject for young adult fans thanks to bestseller-turned-box-office-blockbuster The Fault In Our Stars. It’s no surprise the heartbreaking themes are so similar; Dutton Publisher Julie Strauss-Gabel edited both books.

TIME Business

Pizza Hut Built a Giant, Real-Life Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Pizza Thrower

Comic-Con fans will be able to take turns operating it


Some publicity stunts are really, really dumb. Other publicity stunts involve building a 12-foot Pizza Thrower and realizing your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle dreams. Thank you, Pizza Hut, for providing the latter.

The chain will debut a massive vehicle, complete with a 16-foot rotating cannon to launch pizzas, at Comic-Con in San Diego, which takes place July 24-27.

Comic-Con goers, who probably owned the toy version seen below, will literally eat it up. Well, metaphorically eat it up. Unfortunately the launched pizzas will be fake.

Pizza Hut partnered with Paramount for Michael Bay’s live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, out August 8.

TIME Music

Pharrell’s New Music Video Is Basically a Dove Advertisement

Miley Cyrus also shows up


The last time Pharrell “I Don’t Think It’s Possible For Me to Be a Feminist” Williams starred in a music video that featured giant red letters plastered all over your screen, it didn’t go over so well. Perhaps that’s why, in his new clip for the funky “Come Get it Bae,” the producer basically films a Dove advertisement with a much more female-friendly message: “Beauty has no expiration date.” (Even the studio kinda looks like the one from that viral beauty sketches video.)

While Pharrell gazes from behind the camera, women of varying ages perform some hand-clapping choreography that even your grandma could probably rock. Sadly, Missy Elliott isn’t on hand to pass that dutch — as she did at the BET Awards — but at least occasional life coach Miley Cyrus shows up to represent the youths and extend a body part that is not her tongue.

TIME celebrities

Brad and Angelina Finally Get Married… in the Movies

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie attends a private reception as costumes and props from Disney's "Maleficent" are exhibited in support of Great Ormond Street Hospital at Kensington Palace on May 8, 2014 in London.
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie attends a private reception as costumes and props from Disney's "Maleficent" are exhibited in support of Great Ormond Street Hospital at Kensington Palace on May 8, 2014 in London. Fred Duval—FilmMagic

Angelina finally says I do...agree to act as Brad's husband in forthcoming movie

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie will appear as a married couple onscreen in the new film By the Sea, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter.

Jolie will write and direct the film, which will star the notoriously unmarried power couple as a couple who actually tied the knot.

Angelina and Brad will reunite onscreen for the first time since the action comedy Mr. & Mrs. Smith in 2005. Jolie, Hollywood’s highest paid female actor, will likely take a paycut for the passion project — but may still end up being paid more than her husband, THR reports.

[The Hollywood Reporter]

TIME Television

Can Gotham Pull Off a Superhero Show Without Any Superheroes?

Detective Jim Gordon (Ben Mackenzie) and Detective Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) in "Gotham."
Detective Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Detective Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) in "Gotham." Jessica Miglio—FOX

The series' creator confirms that Batman wouldn't appear on a show that doesn't really need him anyway

At the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour on Sunday, Gotham showrunner Bruno Heller confirmed what many had already suspected: the titular city’s most famous resident, Batman, will never appear on the show. The announcement didn’t come as a surprise: Gotham is the origin story of Detective Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie), meaning that the series’ events take place years — decades, even — before the Caped Crusader’s arrival (though a young Bruce Wayne will appear).

But the choice is also a bold one. Fox has a lot riding on Gotham, the network’s first foray into the superhero genre — a genre poised to begin making an impact in television as explosive as the one it’s already made in film. The natural inclination would be to pull out all the stops, to leave all avenues and possibilities open. Instead, Heller has closed the one door that would appeal more to mainstream audiences than any other.

It’s also probably the right decision. CW’s Arrow has earned a devoted following and a measure of critical acclaim by telling the origin story of its eponymous superhero (so much so that the network is attempting to replicate the formula with The Flash, which debuts this fall as well). But Green Arrow isn’t Batman. We could spend all day debating the merits and abilities of the two superheroes — both of whom belong to the DC Comics universe — but there’s no question who’s the bigger star. Arrow works as an origin story largely because he’s not one of that universe’s most prominent superheroes, and his story has mostly been told in print, rather than on a screen.

Batman, on the other hand, is a character with whom audiences have grown intimately familiar over the last two decades, most recently thanks to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Batman is no longer a mystery (and will become even less of one with Ben Affleck set to don the black suit for 2016′s Batman vs. Superman). In many ways, the city of Gotham still is.

A common refrain on Arrow is that Oliver Queen returned after a five-year shipwreck to “save” his hometown of Starling City. It’s hard to argue that Nolan’s Batman wasn’t endeavoring to do the same with Gotham City. But if we know how Batman ultimately saved Gotham, what remains is answering the question of why it needed saving in the first place.

Even more so than Starling City, Gotham City is a metropolis filled with colorful characters — many of them iconically unsavory ones. Just because Batman won’t be showing up in Gotham doesn’t mean many of his future adversaries won’t be around to serve as an unyielding stream of nemeses for Detective Gordon and his partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue). Just as crucially, producers won’t have to worry about audiences believing that everything prior to Batman’s arrival was simply a prelude. And frankly, villains were always the more compelling characters in the Batman universe. Bruce Wayne isn’t without his fans, but even Nolan’s Batman films were at their best when someone other than the Dark Knight — most notably Heath Ledger’s Joker — was stealing the show.

That’s not necessarily the case in the Marvel universe, where ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been attempting to pull off a similar trick. Though the show managed to score a second season, critical and commercial response was middling. Part of the series’ shortcomings was due to the fact that the Avengers themselves weren’t involved — not to mention a lack of any particularly memorable villains. More significantly, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t have a setting like Gotham — arguably the most developed and best-known in all of superherodom (which is not a real word but should be).

It’s telling that the show isn’t named Gordon. Gotham City itself will be as much the focus of the series as any of the characters inside it. What exactly that means, we won’t know until September. But if the city was vital enough for Batman to save it over and again, maybe it’ll be worth it for Gotham viewers to immerse themselves in the lore of Batman’s hometown — even if he never shows up at all.

TIME Video Games

The Luigi ‘Death Stare’ Is Now Nintendo Canon, Apparently

It's also probably not a good idea to say his name three times while standing in front of a mirror.

Remember the Luigi “death stare” meme that surfaced after Mario Kart 8 shipped? The thing where Luigi (green-capped brother of Mario) stares down his victims on the raceway like the Wrath of God in a go-kart?

Nintendo tipped its hat to the meme during its E3 2014 Digital Event, and now it’s identifying that steely, spleenful gaze with the character in Japanese ads for Mario Kart 8. Check it out.

How’ll we know it’s really canon in years to come? How else: Have Luigi whip out his flashlight and shine it from under his chin while doing his pitiless thing in the next Luigi’s Mansion game. Make it a special move even.

TIME celebrities

Watch Daniel Radcliffe Grow Up in One Surreal GIF

Ah, they grow up so fast

Getty Images (14); Gif by Joseph C. Lin—TIME

J.K. Rowling recently revealed that Harry Potter is now a 30-something, but the real life actor who played Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe, only turns 25 on July 23, 2014. Take a look at how he’s grown up from a first-year Gryffindor to a grown man — all in one GIF.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser