5 Questlove projects you should watch now

After a freshly minted Oscar-nomination, the Roots' bandleader continues to direct and produce TV and film projects.

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Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson takes pride in his busy schedule. Aside from being the drummer and bandleader for the legendary Roots crew, he has played with and/or produced for several other musicians ranging from D’Angelo, John Mayer, and Elvis Costello to Al Green and Joe Jackson. 

Thompson is known for his encyclopedic knowledge of music as much as he is for his drumming. He flexes that muscle on his award-winning podcast, Questlove Supreme, interviewing legends like Q-Tip, Rick Rubin, and Babyface. Three of his four books are about music, including 2021’s Music is History. And he’s been an informed voice in various documentaries such as Bad 25, Finding the Funk, and Mr. Soul!

Already a five-time Grammy winner, Thompson could add an Oscar win to his long list of accomplishments. His directorial debut Summer of Soul has already won the BATFA and Critics’ Choice Award for Best Documentary. On Sunday, the film that chronicled the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival could bring home the ultimate prize; Best Documentary at the Academy Awards.

The National Board Of Review Annual Awards Gala - Arrivals
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson attends the National Board of Review annual awards gala on March 15, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for National Board of Review)

With Summer of Soul’s success, Thompson can write his own ticket when it comes to creating documentaries and video projects about Black music. “This might unearth a retelling in sort of a treasure chest or a trove of history that we didn’t know about,” Thompson told theGrio in a 2021 interview. “So, I feel as though now, what I hope is, that that this unearths a billion other Black stories that we weren’t privy to.”

Questlove’s transition into helming historic visual music history seems like a natural one, not only because of his wealth of knowledge but because of the impressive execution of the wide-ranging projects that have taken over screens big and small. 

Here are five projects to watch from Questlove: 

Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

While much has already been said about this documentary, it still doesn’t seem like enough. That’s how good it is. Unearthing the footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, featuring performances from the likes of Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, Nina Simone and B.B. King, Summer of Soul also speaks to Harlem’s influence on Black American culture and the subsequent erasure of that history.

Songs That Shook America

Thompson’s production company Two One Five Entertainment produced Songs That Shook America, a YouTube music documentary series that breaks down the impact of select hip-hop songs. Each episode is devoted to a song, including interviews and insight on tracks like Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks,” Queen Latifah’s “Ladies First,” Run DMC’s “Rock Box,” and Outkast’s “Elevators.”  

Rise Up, Sing Out

Thompson executive produces and creates the music for the Disney Junior animated series along with Roots co-founder Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter. Rise Up, Sing Out is a collection of animated shorts that endorse unity and diversity, address racism, and celebrate Black culture. One highlight is the episode “Super Bonnet,” where three Black girls show a white friend their Black hair and the bonnets that protect it while they sleep.

Descendant

QuestLove and Black Thought of The Roots. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Nordstrom)

Thompson and Trotter teamed up with Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground company to executive produce this acclaimed documentary about Alabama’s Africatown community. The film captures its resident’s discovery that they are descendants of the slaves carried on the Clotilda, the final slave ship to reach America. Descendant premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and will stream on Netflix in the future.

Forthcoming James Brown Documentary Series

FILE – In this Monday, June 10, 1991 file photo, James Brown performs at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, File)

This month, it was reported that Quest, Trotter, and Mick Jagger are joining forces to produce a documentary series on James Brown for A&E. James Brown: Say It Loud is slated to be a four-part series that chronicles the music and career of the Godfather of Soul. The series will premiere in 2023 with never before seen archival footage.

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