Imagine being hired to DJ for Prince. What do you play for someone who pretty much shaped and reinvented modern music? How could you even start to try to impress such a figure? By playing your old James Brown records? Or your Sly and the Family Stone bootlegs? Nah, he’s heard it all before. Maybe some new-school funk? Forget it, he was already into that hot young band before you were.
Even for a seasoned performer like Questlove, the prospect of soundtracking Prince’s night is enough to evoke nauseating levels of stage fright. Late last year, The Roots drummer described an awkward situation that went down in 2004, when he was asked to DJ at a Prince after-party. “I was honoured to be spinning my records for my idol,” he later admitted, after being told that Prince “knows you know it’s an honour to work for him”.
“Knowing how derivative Prince was to James Brown, I just knew he was gonna flip to Fela Kuti’s music,” Questlove recalled. However, the choice didn’t go down so well with Prince: “He walked over to my booth and said ‘Play something else’. I was flabbergasted because – to that point – nobody fronted on Fela. So I just thought it was the song he didn’t like. I put on a more energetic Fela song.”
“Right before I pulled the George Clinton out, his assistant comes over and hands me a blank DVD case and says ‘Play this’.” Opening the case, he found a copy of Finding Nemo, which had been released the year before. “I was like, ‘Did I just get fired and replaced by a cartoon fish?'” He did, and subsequently legged it before the awkward music-to-cartoon switchover.
Three years after the incident, Questlove was invited back to another of Prince’s parties – but wasn’t on deck duties this time. He instead arrived to witness the DJ of the night playing – yep, you guessed it – Fela Kuti. But “nothing happens. No cartoon comes on. Everybody’s dancing.”
Evidently not too emotionally scared by the traumatic incident, Questlove hosted a tribute to Prince at New York’s Brooklyn Bowl last night, playing deep cuts from the late musician all set to a backdrop of Finding Nemo. Posting a picture online, Questlove wrote in the caption: “Representin’. It’s Only Right.” The most apt of tributes.