Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, of the Roots, might readily admit that he is the nerdiest of music nerds. He’s one of those artists who is almost as relentlessly old school in his meticulous perusal of album liner notes as he and his band are in creating “art for art’s sake.” And that would be art in the most biblical sense of the word, as in “How great Thou art!” As creatives like he and Kanye West have often alluded to over the years, the creation of art is in many ways like playing a god. Questlove might have even felt somewhat godly when internet radio giant Pandora was one of several digital music outlets trying to curry favor with him last fall.
The meeting with Pandora was surprisingly productive as co-founder Tim Westergren showed him the Music Genome Project, its god-like system for categorizing songs by hundreds of precise musical attributes. Intrigued by a technology company as obsessive about the fundamentals of music as he was, the two immediately began discussing new projects. Questlove managed to parlay the conversation into a strategic adviser and artist ambassador role, Pandora’s first.
“I went in there to talk about playlists, and I ended up with a job as an equity partner,” Questlove said in a New York Times interview.
Questlove Supreme, a weekly radio show to debut September 7 is the first output of the partnership. The three-hour program with wide-ranging playlists and guests shows off Questlove’s eclectic tastes. Describing the show as an extension of the music courses he teaches at New York University, he referred to the show as “the Black nerd version of NPR.” The partnership comes at an important time for Pandora as the company is set to challenge streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal.
“We are entering into a new phase for the company,” Westergren said. “We are working more directly with labels and artists. We really want to invest a lot in that nexus, and having someone like him bridge that and speak on our behalf is really powerful.”
To prepare for each show, Questlove said, he goes through about 200 songs.
“This is a commitment deeper than any girlfriend I’ve ever had,” he said, “or any diet I’ve tried to stick to.”
Given the chance to create his own dream radio show, Questlove is most excited about possibly opening ears beyond the most heavily promoted pop music.
“I want a world in which Drake’s ‘One Dance’ can also live with Frank Zappa’s ‘Uncle Meat’ can live with James Brown’s ‘Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing,’” Questlove said, “and all stops in between.”