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Questlove on How Stevie Wonder & "The Cosby Show" Helped Shape Modern Hip-Hop

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Guests

Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, drummer and co-founder of The Roots, the legendary hip-hop group and house band on NBC’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. He is also a DJ, music scholar and author of the new memoir, Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove.

Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, the drummer for the legendary hip-hop group The Roots, talks about the Cosby Show episode that left an indelible impression on him when he saw it at a young age: a guest appearance by Stevie Wonder, showcasing the art of sampling. See all of our extended interview with Questlove.

AARON MATÉ: Let’s stay with Stevie Wonder but switch gears to what Questlove has called a key moment in the growth of hip-hop: Stevie Wonder’s guest appearance on The Crosby Show.

STEVIE WONDER: Better try something different, OK.

RECORDING ENGINEER: No problem, Stevie.

STEVIE WONDER: Would you all mind helping me?

THEO HUXTABLE: Hey!

VANESSA HUXTABLE: Oh!

STEVIE WONDER: I’d like the person who made me this beautiful giraffe to come here first.

RUDY HUXTABLE: I’m here!

STEVIE WONDER: How old are you?

RUDY HUXTABLE: Six.

STEVIE WONDER: How would you like to be on my new album?

RUDY HUXTABLE: Yeah.

STEVIE WONDER: What sound do you think a giraffe makes?

RUDY HUXTABLE: Haooooo!

STEVIE WONDER: Beautiful. I’ve got you in my Synclavier.

RUDY HUXTABLE: Mommy! I’m on Stevie’s new record!

CLAIR HUXTABLE: I know.

STEVIE WONDER: I need a little more help. Ms. Vanessa?

VANESSA HUXTABLE: Yes, sir—I mean, Stevie.

STEVIE WONDER: How old are you?

VANESSA HUXTABLE: I’m 12.

STEVIE WONDER: I bet you’ve got a boyfriend.

VANESSA HUXTABLE: Well, sort of.

RUDY HUXTABLE: She’s in love with Robert.

STEVIE WONDER: So why don’t you say "Robert"?

VANESSA HUXTABLE: Robert.

STEVIE WONDER: Oh, say it like you really mean it.

VANESSA HUXTABLE: Robert.

STEVIE WONDER: Denise, how old are you?

DENISE HUXTABLE: Seventeen.

STEVIE WONDER: Theo, how old are you?

THEO HUXTABLE: Fifteen

STEVIE WONDER: Seventeen and 15. Who’s a singer?

THEO HUXTABLE: Well, I want to be.

STEVIE WONDER: Can you rap?

THEO HUXTABLE: Yeah.

STEVIE WONDER: What’s happening? Go at it about for me one time.

THEO HUXTABLE: Noooo.

STEVIE WONDER: What would you say at a party?

THEO HUXTABLE: Jammin’ on the one.

STEVIE WONDER: Denise, it’s your turn.

DENISE HUXTABLE: I don’t know what to say.

STEVIE WONDER: Perfect! And now, Clair Huxtable.

CLAIR HUXTABLE: Don’t you ask me how old I am.

STEVIE WONDER: Oh, I ain’t gonna ask you how old you are. I just want you to sing.

CLAIR HUXTABLE: Oh, I don’t know.

RUDY HUXTABLE: Come on!

VANESSA HUXTABLE: Go!

DENISE HUXTABLE: Come on. Once in a lifetime.

RUDY HUXTABLE: Yeah.

CLAIR HUXTABLE: OK, I’m going to do this for my children.

STEVIE WONDER: Just a—just a simple "la," that’s all I need.

CLAIR HUXTABLE: Laaaa.

STEVIE WONDER: This is hot. This is really hot. You know what? I even got your husband saying "baby." Let me see.

DR. HEATHCLIFF HUXTABLE: [sampled] Baby. Baby. Baby. Baby.

DENISE HUXTABLE: How did he do that?

DR. HEATHCLIFF HUXTABLE: [sampled] Baby. Baby. Ba-ba-ba-baby. B-b-b-b-b-b-b-baby.

STEVIE WONDER: OK, let’s see now. [playing Synclavier].

AARON MATÉ: That’s Stevie Wonder appearing on The Crosby Show. Ahmir, talk about this moment for you as a kid watching this and what it meant to you.

AHMIR "QUESTLOVE" THOMPSON: As an adult looking at this now, I can see that that is the greatest way to get out of a lawsuit, 'cause now I joke, if an iconic singer gets in a car accident with two Brooklyn children, their parents' first thought is, "Oh, we rich!"

AMY GOODMAN: Because you’re talking about, in fact, right, Stevie Wonder’s car was in a car accident with the kids.

AHMIR "QUESTLOVE" THOMPSON: Yeah, the premise of the show is the fact that Stevie Wonder, his limousine crashes into Denise’s car with Theo in the car, and as a olive branch, he invites them into the studio and shows them his brand new sampler.

But that was—that, to me, was a very key moment, because a lot of the producers—that episode came on in 1985, so fast-forward 10 years later to producers that are just starting out, that will eventually become part of the new renaissance, like Just Blaze, J Dilla, 9th Wonder, these cats, a lot of their stories that I’ve heard were that, you know, they became interested in sampling culture having seen that Stevie Wonder episode.

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