Fallon played the musician a series of second-long clips: the drums from “Raspberry Beret,” the swirling intro to “Baby I’m a Star,” the shriek from “Get Off,” the tom-tom groove from “I Feel for You,” the synth in “U Got the Look” and the falsetto from “Alphabet Street.” Questlove nailed each of them, and he continued his streak when Fallon switched to deep cuts (like “Mountains”) and trimmed the timing to a half-second and quarter-second.
Questlove, promoting his latest book Creative Quest, also detailed how a frustrating DJ gig for then-President Barack Obama (he didn’t specify the host’s name due to an NDA) “forced [him] into retirement.” The story demonstrated a key lesson from the text: that failure is a crucial element in developing genius.
“I’m very meticulous about my DJ gig preparation,” he said. “I’m like John Nash from A Beautiful Mind, putting up math formulas and all that stuff. I get the dream gig of a lifetime in early 2016. I have four months preparation … The first hour into it, I think I’m killing it, and my host taps me on the shoulder. I tried to ignore him – I thought it was someone like, ‘Hey, play Rick Astley!’ He’s like, ‘Hey, you’re doing a good job! I love the disco and the calypso and all that stuff, but look at them! And his kids are sitting there, like [crosses arms with boredom]. They want to have fun too, so pep it up!”
Questlove realized in this moment that he’d become “the DJ [he] hated the most.” “I’m googling songs teenagers like: ‘What is ‘Swag Surfin’?'” he said. “I’m about to have a panic attack because this is the one thing I can do in life. At the end of the night, our host is like, ‘This is the best time we’ve ever had, the greatest thing ever, so you should be proud of yourself. You served the people; you did well. He was like, ‘I know you’re an artist, and I know you had your own agenda and everything, but you served the people. Do you feel good?’ I was like, yeah, I did serve the people. He was like, ‘Do you feel better now?’ and I was like, ‘No.’ So I stopped DJing.”
But all’s well that end’s well. “Six months later, I came back,” he said. “And now I DJ for kids.”