?uestlove's Police run-in

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The Roots have had a career unlike any other hip-hop artists—the longevity, the untarnished respect and the near-universal reputation as being the best live act in the genre—and drummer
?uestlove has been at the heart of it. His encyclopedic knowledge of music—not just beats and breaks—has put the Roots onstage covering Sly and The Family Stone, found him backing Jay-Z on MTV and led to him playing drums for John Mayer on "Chappelle's Show."

But that's not enough for him. Over the last 14 years with the Roots, he's had to step it up consistently to prove that the band is still relevant and revolutionary. Right now, that means the tour behind their most recent album, the politically charged "Game Theory," has higher production values than anything they've done before.

?uestlove recently spoke to us about the band's endurance, what their tour has in store and his affection for the Police.

After the Police reunited at the Grammy awards, they held a press conference–show at the tiny Los Angeles club Whisky A Go-Go. The webcast of it showed you asking a question…
I grabbed that microphone! That was probably the most surreal, perfect moment of my life. In my head, the Police is a reunion that's really hard to fumble. It's just three musicians involved, and they had such a cool run for those five albums that I saw it as virtually impossible to mess up. It was really cool standing in a sea of journalists, smack dab in the middle, me and Taylor [Hawkins, of the Foo Fighters], the guys from Fall Out Boy, Matt Stone and Les Claypool…We're all air-drumming, pushing journalists out the way; we became the people we can't stand seeing in the front row.

Why did the show mean so much to you?
The best thing wasn't the songs; it was the banter between Stewart [Copeland] and Sting. People were afraid because they saw "Behind the Music" and wondered where this was going to go. Real hate is indifference…[but] they still have love for each other—nothing to worry about. If we've managed to last for 15 years in these conditions, I'm sure those guys can [put up with each other in order to] make $200 million in a year and a half's time.

What do you mean "In these conditions?" What's the key to your longevity?
By this point, usually after 15 years, most groups graduate to Dodger Stadium, Candlestick Park. I still feel like the new group that people are discovering. When every album comes out, there's still 60 percent of our fan base that's genuinely shocked that we have nine albums. These conditions—we have to grow with our production, so we're giving our fan base a million-dollar production with a five-figure budget to work with. Some people in this crew have to double-up in a Motel 6 or flip for the floor and the beds. But everyone's determined to reinvent the wheel with this tour.

How so?
It's one thing to notice that every year I see a new demographic and a younger demographic—which I'm cool with. More or less, that triggered that maybe I should cater the show to be less about the history of hip-hop and more about the history of music. We have a brass band with us, and we're doing New Orleans stuff, doing jazz stuff. We're covering Dylan. Covering the Police. Doing rock stuff. Doing New Birth [Brass Band]. James Brown. Before this tour it was just about the hip-hop generation. Now I'm trying to cover every genre of music, from the '40s to now. My manager said, "Why don't you treat this gig like a DJ gig." And I was like, you know—I spin Benny Goodman and NWA and all the points in between.

How's the crowd response been?
Great. And now, I'm a little afraid that we set a standard that—I don't know how we're going to keep this one. It's painfully expensive to put on. We had to get corporate sponsorship just so we could afford to break even and have a good light show and horn section, extra production, all that stuff. I'm not worried about 2007. I'm more worried about what our next trick is for 2008.

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