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Questlove of The Roots: How the DEA Once Mistook Me for a Drug Don

Web ExclusiveAugust 14, 2013
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Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, the drummer for the legendary hip-hop group The Roots, has been harassed by law enforcement on multiple occasions since a young age. In this Democracy Now! web exclusive, Questlove describes what’s likely his oddest experience: the time DEA agents held him at a Buffalo airport, suspecting him of being a drug dealer. See all of our extended interview with Questlove.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us the story of what happened with the DEA in Buffalo?

AHMIRQUESTLOVETHOMPSON: Sure. OK, so, we were—I believe this was two thousand and—2005. I was going through the—I was going through airport security. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Was it 2007?

AHMIRQUESTLOVETHOMPSON: OK, it’s blurry, but I’m trying to figure out which album was out or who I was dating at the time. So…

AARON MATÉ: The media said it was 2007.

AHMIRQUESTLOVETHOMPSON: OK, they could be right. It was between 2005 and 2007. Let’s say 2006 just to be safe. So, I was going through the airport, and at the time—and this is me kind of putting the blame on me, because often, when I’m in situations like this, my first instinct is to say, you know, “Well, it’s your fault, because you should have been walking slower,” or “It’s your fault, because you look like this,” or “It’s your fault because…” I mean, I deejay now, so, you know, deejaying is now my livelihood. But back then it was sort of still a hobby. So, as it being a hobby, you know, I would just collect my cash at the end of the night. I didn’t treat it like a real business, where, you know, you’re supposed to deal with my management and—you know, artists aren’t supposed to collect their—you know, but it’s deejaying, so it’s like minuscule money. You know, and I was on tour for like 200 days out the year, so it just happened to be a time period where I was walking around with a lot of cash in my bag. You know, it was up there, because I hadn’t got to Philadelphia yet to deposit it all in the bank. And that rang an alarm. I guess I put the bag through security, and then people started talking.

And then it was like, “Well, sir, can you come in this room, please?” And then, you know, I waited for like 20 minutes, and then I was like, “Well, wait, am I going to miss my flight or not?” Then they said, “Well, we need you to answer some questions.” And then, next thing, I knew something was up when people walked in that had the special nylon jackets on. And I didn’t know what the—at the time, it didn’t hit me that, oh, Drug Enforcement Agency, like I didn’t know what a DA was, because I had never been in that situation before in my life. And they were like, “OK, now explain who you are and what you do.”

And again, like, when I explain this stuff, it just—it’s like the Electric Company thing, like I see the words coming out of my mouth, and it just feels sillier, like who’s going to believe that you have an office and a staff and an assistant and—you know, I’m saying these things, like, well, you know, “Can I call my office, so that”—you know, or—and then I feel silly, by saying, “Well, just google me. Like, I’m not just—I don’t know who you think I am or whatever.” And it just became one of those moments where it was just like, you know, I’m the most suspicious drug dealer. And for like a half hour, I felt like, oh, I am a drug don, like I was carrying liquid cocaine, and I got caught, and here are the dogs, and here’s the DEA with their nylon jackets, and I’m going to jail. Maybe I should call my lawyer. And so, you know, everyone’s watching, so I just—I just reeked of guilt.

And so, you know, at the end of the day, I just collect cash for my DJ gigs, and I didn’t have a chance to deposit it. So, after that, you know, direct deposit in the bank.

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