At the bottom of the stairs of New York’s Electric Lady Studios sits a picture of its founder, Jimi Hendrix. As you walk further, art depicting the likes of Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Lana Del Rey, Bob Dylan and other creative geniuses line the walls. Enter one room and legendary DJ/producer Questlove (real name Ahmir Thompson) and veteran rapper Black Thought (born Tariq Trotter) are diligently at work on a balmy Wednesday morning in July, previewing The Roots’ new collaboration with brewery Stella Artois called “Bittersweet” as part of their “Host One to Remember” campaign.
“What was super intriguing for me was the fact that this represents a meeting of the culinary world and the world of music,” Black Thought tells Billboard of partnering with Stella Artois. “Two different aspects of the arts and mediums in music and beats are coming together. The idea of senses kind of being correlated is something that I’ve always suspected and the theory was proven to us weeks ago. It’s dope.”
Quest shared similar sentiments. “I think for us, especially since we’re like more album artists than single-orientated, I know that a lot of our albums are created with an ongoing diagram. At the time, I was only thinking of color,” he says in reference to their single for Stella. “Let’s make it light here and dark there. To discover that all your senses are effective, not just one in particular like your ears or your eyes, but all of your senses, this is really right up our alley. This is how we create music.”
In order to deliver the track, The Roots experimented with a number of different pitches and instruments to not only complement the taste of Stella Artois’ brews, but also stimulate people’s senses musically. “Some people react to sweeter, non-abrasive and lighter things because it enhances their mood,” explains Quest. “When you hear your favorite song in the car, you turn it up. Some people need to get amped up to a certain kind of music, like football players.” The Roots will also perform at one exclusive seating at “Le Savoir,” a multi-sensorial dinner experience in New York taking place later this month, but “Bittersweet” will be part of every event for those who purchase tickets.
For Thought, his start as a visual artist helped expand his senses and allow him to find a happy medium in his lyricism. “I think it’s something you just become aware of over time,” he says. “I started as a visual artist and I’ve always dealt with music in that same sort of way. It’s weird what can trigger the beginning of a song or some bars. It can be a banging slice of apple pie or it can be smelling a certain perfume or something. I just know that I’m not crazy.”
With an unblemished resume that consists of Grammy wins, a nightly gig on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and several performances with arguably the hippest Commander-in-Chief in U.S. history, President Barack Obama, The Roots have managed to add another accolade to their laundry list of accomplishments. They’re working on the mixtape for the critically-acclaimed Broadway hit Hamilton with Lin-Manuel Miranda. Common, Chance The Rapper, Sia, Usher among others are slated to appear on the project, due this fall.
“We’re in the final stages,” says Quest. “We were brought in to produce the cast album and now the massive success of that album is leading to the original idea. Hamilton started out as an idea for a mixtape and nothing else. Then they were like, ‘Let’s do this play first and see what happens.’ So this is the “see what happens” part.”