Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, the musician best known as the drummer and co-frontman of Grammy Award-winning hip-hop group The Roots, is very much a man of letters. Growing up reading aloud to his father on road trips, Questlove discussed his lifelong appreciation for the written word in an April interview with The New York Times.
I tend to go for biographies and oral histories and books about art of all kinds.

Touching on his favorite musician memoirs, cookbooks, and the stories that changed his life, the works referenced form a basis for the depth of art, history, food and music knowledge on infectious display in his four highly acclaimed books Mo’ Meta Blues, Soul TrainSomething To Food About and Creative Quest.

Coupled with a top ten list provided to NY bookstore One Grand, find Questlove’s reading recommendations below, and complement with the reading lists of Jay-Z, Anthony Bourdain and Amy Winehouse.

They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib

“His ode to ‘Trap Queen’ as the new ‘I Will Always Love You’ first caught my attention. I was instantly hooked.” -Q

Last Night A DJ Saved My Life by Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

“The chapter on Larry Levan alone transformed me into wanting to be your favorite DJ.” -Q

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (also rec’d by Annie ClarkCarrie Brownstein & Gabrielle Union)

“A clear and powerful thinker writing about how we got to where we got, and where we’re going next. The voice of the times I live in.” -Q

Rakim Told Me: Wax Facts Straight From The Original Artists by Brian Coleman

“My two favorite things in one setting: liner notes and hip hop classics!” -Q

Miles by Miles Davis & Quincy Troupe

Dreams of African in Alabama by Sylviane A. Diouf

“This book represents my chapter in American history—my great great great grandfather was on this ship. I’m his dream manifested.” -Q

The Potlikker Papers by John T. Edge

“Although his 2004 book on chicken is the usual go to, it’s his ode to soul food and race that grabbed me.” -Q

The Most Beautiful: My Life With Prince by Mayte Garcia

Dig If You Will The Picture: Funk, Sex, God and Genius in the Music of Prince by Ben Greenman

“It’s by a rapper, about his inability to make it. It’s a brilliant book, and it scared the crap out of me — I have never seen someone revel in his failure quite the way he does.” -Q

The Mother of Black Hollywood by Jenifer Lewis

“She’s an actress who has worked in television and film for decades. She played Tupac’s mother in ‘Poetic Justice’ and Tina Turner’s mother in ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It?’ Now she’s in ‘Black-ish.’ Her book was hilarious. I listened to the audiobook, and it was so good that it made me step up my audiobook game for Creative Quest.” -Q

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X (also rec’d by Gabrielle UnionJanelle Monáe & Rose McGowan)

The Autobiography of Malcolm X changed my life. I read it when I was 15, and that — along with discovering Public Enemy and Afrocentric hip-hop — kind of went hand in hand as a consciousness-builder and creator.” -Q

Beneath the Underdog by Charles Mingus

“Lots of musicians have written memoirs. I did. This one, by the great jazz bassist and composer, is one of the funniest, smartest, and rawest.” -Q

Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking by Nathan Myhrvold

Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt

“Similar to my envy of Outkast’s Spottieottiedopaliscious, this is the memoir I wish I could’ve written. This film is damn near my personal cinema bible.” -Q

The Free-Lance Pallbearers & Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed

My Book About Me by Dr. Seuss

“My favorite children’s book was Dr. Seuss’ My Book About Me, which is a kind of guided workbook that lets you write your own autobiography. I carried it around as if I wrote it, which I guess I did. I was so proud. To this day, I love that book — I probably have 50 blank copies of it in storage.” -Q

Flyboy in the Buttermilk by Greg Tate

“Greg Tate made me want to be a writer. I was amazed that a musician was so fluid and had enough knowledge to describe and analyze other people’s music so well.” -Q

Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry

“It has recipes in it, but it also talks about the social and racial history of soul food. It inspired my 200-day run with vegetarianism.” -Q

Prince and The Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984 by Duane Tudahl

“A book I loved so much I begged to do the foreward when I received the manuscript.” -Q

The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty

The Hungry Ear by Kevin Young

“I like reading poetry, and I like eating and drinking. This book combines all of that with poetry about food and drink.” -Q

(via The New York Times & One Grand Books; Photo by Ben Watts)


Books by Questlove

Mo’ Meta Blues (2013)

Soul Train: The Music, Dance, and Style of a Generation (2013)

Something To Food About: Exploring Creativity with Innovative Chefs (2016 – rec’d by Anthony Bourdain)

Creative Quest (2018)

Categories: Musicians

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