A new op-ed from Questlove has appeared on TIME’s official website, recounting his experience witnessing the historical moment that hip-hop changed forever. In the piece, The Roots drummer recounts the 1995 Source Awards, the moment he believes was hip-hops funeral, before viewing that as a turning point into a new era.
Questlove wrote, “Hip hop was created as a rejection of the opulence of Studio 54 culture, a direct result of Black people historically being edged out from places of social mobility and of consistently being the ‘have nots.’ But by the time the 90s rolled around, hip hop was slowly turning into the very thing that it was once against.”
He added, “Often, Black people hate when rap critics, who are mainly white, are quick to use the term ‘sellout,’ as if Black people aren’t in a constant rat maze of fight or flight all their lives. Because yes, even your art might have to be sacrificed. And that realization, and the hopelessness that followed, was why the Source Awards was one of the most depressing days of my life. I didn’t know if I had a future.”
Though Quest initially came to that realization, it was another artist he discovered the night of the Awards that renewed his faith in the course of hip-hop and R&B.
He concluded, “At the time, it wasn’t even hyperbole, but in a metaphorical slow way, I was right. The hip hop that I knew, loved, embraced was gone, and that night, the hourglass turned over. But as I was running out of that place, there was this one guy in the street that came up to me, and said, ‘Yo, take this.’ He put the cassette in my hands, and it said D’Angelo, Brown Sugar. Now, normally, I never took demos, but I just put the tape in my pocket and kept running. When I got back to my hotel room, and listened to just how good the cassette was, I sat there and realized that I had a chance to be on this record, and I didn’t do it. I had to make music with this guy.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, on the day that I thought the culture was ending, I would meet the very person I would wind up creating Voodoo with, another paradigm shifting masterpiece—for us. That was my introduction to him—a rebirth, on what I felt was ultimately hip hop’s funeral.”