Book Review: Creative Quest, by Questlove

Perhaps one of the most prolific creators of today is Amir K. Thompson, who is better known as Questlove to the millions of people who see him lead The Roots every weeknight on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.  For most performers, The Tonight Show gig would be the capstone achievement in a career. Not so here. The Tonight Show gig is really only one of a handful of Questlove’s simultaneous creative pursuits that seemingly defy human capacity.  How does he do all those projects, and do them all at such a high level?  


The mind reels when you consider that in addition to co-leading The Roots with Tariq Trotter, Questlove: 1) teaches at New York University; 2) has published multiple books, and several of those of those books (including Creative Quest) have landed on the New York Times Best Seller List, which I’d argue is still the gold standard of legitimacy (or at least commercial viability - more on that later); 3) gigs extensively as a DJ; and 4) runs The Roots Picnic, an annual summer music festival in Philadelphia that is hugely popular.  This list is non-exhaustive, and omits the radio show, the podcast and quite a few other things, but you get the picture.

Creative Quest is Questlove’s ruminations on his creative process, using that as a roadmap for others to follow, regardless of the discipline in which they work.  The guidance provided in the book applies with equal force to musicians, actors, authors, chefs, filmmakers, or any other creative pursuit you can imagine. 

The book is an easy read, and the tone is conversational.  I suspect - just a hunch - that Questlove dictated this rather than typed it all out, as the cadence of the language in the book is breezy - as if you were sitting a coffee shop or hanging out after a gig and comparing notes on your influences.  Ben Greenman is listed as a co-author, so likely he was in full scrivener mode while Questlove held court.  (And what’s the point of being a rock star if you can’t do stuff like that?)

One of the hallmarks of Questlove’s musicianship is his ability to seamlessly transition in and out of different musical styles (a skill which he does touch on in the book). His writing style is very similar.  He may be discussing the culinary world, and subtly brings in a metaphor that references something completely unrelated, like Gladys Knight and the Pips (kids, go look them up).  

This book does take a few dozen pages to find its rhythm, but once it does, you find yourself sitting on the couch, 50 pages later wondering what time it is.  It’s highly engaging, which is a feat given that in the wrong hands, this subject matter can be absolutely mind numbing.  So many of books on creativity attempt to quantify and systematize process over inspiration.  Creativity is not something that should be codified. Questlove actually does the opposite, and talks about inspiration, and tries to lay out different ways to position yourself mentally for that spark of inspiration.  

Creators often work alone. That solitude can easily lead to self doubt about one’s artistic validity or work process.  It is not as if painters - for example - all work in a fine arts factory where there are departmental meetings and protocols.  Every creator has to find their own way, and I think that is really the subtext of Creative Quest

VERDICT: Highly Recommended.  Buy it here.