Not many people can make the rise from Underground Hip-Hip to be the modern day Doc Severinsen. That distinction alone would be enough to make Questlove an authority on creativity, add in that The Roots made some of the most original hip-hop of the late 90's and early 2000's and this was on my must read list.
As opposed to the last book on creativity I reviewed, Steal Like An Artist, the advice here is much more abstract. Instead of giving you a set of processes to follow, it's a way to engage with the world to inspire yourself. (Sadly that review is on the old Typed version of this site which is gone now, but that book is excellent.)
Questlove guides you through his background as a musician, and various lessons learned along the way. Each section ends with a lesson. He grabs advice from other artists he's enjoyed and ensures that you get as much of his mindset as an artist as possible.
One of the best things about this book is that it engages the reader as if they were a professional artist. You get advice about commercial pressure, reviews, and what happens when someone makes the same kind of art as you but better in every way. Treating the reader as an equal means that all of the advice here comes from experience. We're not getting a condescending idea of "how to break into the biz" or some other half measure.
That isn’t to say that Questlove is telling you to follow this process to get rich or anything. He acknowledges that he is in a privileged position. He can’t guarantee you any success; he's just telling you the process he followed to get here.
You get a survey of influences and how Questlove digested their work and made it his own. Creative Quest's strongest asset is that the writing is entirely conversational. It's disarming and ensures that it never feels like self-help dreck. That said, I don't think this is for everyone.
Creative Quest is a book about how to be creative, and how to stay creative when that's your day job. That isn't something many people have the luxury of, Questlove ensures that you understand it is always about putting in the work. Avoid distractions– recharge by taking in other people's art, collaborate to create new perspectives on your art, and to try to balance commercial appeal with self-fulfillment.
If you treat your art like a job, you’ll always take it seriously. This line of thinking might not jive with someone looking for tips on how to look severe when writing your novel at the Starbucks, but it’s the best advice in the entire book.
The focus on professional advice and process is something that you're not going to find in many of these creative self-help books. There are many places where it's called out that this might not be applicable for an amateur, but getting in this mentality early on can help you develop as a professional first.
This book isn't going to help your mixtape dominate the end of year lists, nor will it dominate the discussion at your writer's group. It's an odd book that mixes self-help and autobiography in a way that gives you keen insight into the style that Questlove works. It just feels like it will have a hard time finding a home because it does walk the line between how to be creative, and how to do work.
Though I am not writing professionally these days, I wish I had this book when I was doing more freelancing. It gave me the itch to write some more fiction, do more actual essays here, as well as listen to some more Roots records.
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