The word “meta” is often defined as “a prefix used to indicate a concept which is an abstraction from another concept.’ The Urban Dictionary describes it, more simply, as “a term, especially in art, used to characterize something that is characteristically self-referential.”
So what to make of Questlove’s memoir Mo’ Meta Blues? Is it the rap/hip hop abstract angle that virtually defines The Roots, or is it a tongue-in-cheek reference to his autobiography? And how does the cover, a brilliant and witty update of the famous Milton Glaser poster of Bob Dylan, figure in?
Admittedly, I’m more of an admirer than fan of The Roots, particularly the concept of a working, self-contained hip hop band. The book did send me back to check, Things Fall Apart and The Tipping Point — both worth a listen And, as a fan, I was fascinated by the Philly neo-soul scene, featuring Jill Scott, Erykah Badu and D’Angelo, amongst others that The Roots helped nurture. Of course, lately their exposure has been as the mighty house band on the Jimmy Fallon edition of “The Tonight Show.”
And therein lies the appeal of Questlove. The guy lives and breathes music. It’s in his DNA. He can talk about his early fascination with The Beach Boys as easily as the rap scene. With Questlove’s insights into hip hop, soul, the effects of Michael Jackson’s death, the “best day job in the world” and all stops in between, Mo’ Meta Blues is a joy to read. The format includes setup commentary by editor and co-writer Ben Greenman, as well as the additional point of view of “manager from day one,” Richard Nichols. His voice provides balance, support and pushback, as well as differing interpretations and recollections from those of the author, and the book is better off for it.
Questlove often refers to a self-ascribed Roots adage that he holds his music to: “to make sure that every album works on three levels: as a personal statement, as a statement about hip hop and as a statement about the world.” It’s nice to see his memoir Mo Meta Blues reach those lofty standards as well. A great book with a huge heart….
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