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Musician Questlove and crime writer S.A. Cosby on their new children's book



Musician Questlove found himself struggling with all that downtime during the pandemic lockdown.

QUESTLOVE: I'm living a real 24-hour day where the only thing I can look forward to is DJing online for three hours and figuring out what I have to do for Fallon on my iPhone.

RASCOE: Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, drummer for The Roots, bandleader for Jimmy Fallon, Oscar-winning director of "Summer Of Soul," was used to being busy - really busy. So he started thinking about something he'd always wanted to do but didn't think he could actually pull off.

QUESTLOVE: In my mind, I'm so obsessed with time travel, but I'm one of those nerds that - yeah, I'm sorry. It took me till the pandemic to watch "Star Wars" the complete series and things that nerds are supposed to know already - like, nerd 101 stuff. I just thought that I can't write a book about time travel and stuff. Like, I don't even know what the terms to use...

RASCOE: It was suggested that Questlove reconnect with somebody he'd been introduced to a few years back.

QUESTLOVE: It was like a play date. Like, hey, you guys should be friends 'cause, you know, Shawn at the time was, like, the new kid on the block. Like, he was New York Times bestselling author.

RASCOE: The Shawn there is Shawn Andre Cosby, better known as S. A. Cosby, writer of gritty crime novels that critics and readers rave about. I mean, Obama put Cosby's book "Razorblade Tears" on his summer reading list, so you know he legit. Cut to the chase - Cosby liked the idea.

S A COSBY: There aren't really any rules about time travel. It's how far you want to go with it as a creative person, you know? It's like - you know, to quote "Star Wars," nobody knows how lightsabers work. They just know they're cool. You know, it's not a Stephen Hawking dissertation. You just got to make it make sense.

RASCOE: The duo gave themselves an additional challenge - write the book for some of the toughest audiences around - middle school kids. Now, music does play a role in the book. Here's a little reading from it. We asked Cosby and Questlove to share.

QUESTLOVE: (Reading) Time is like a song. There's a rhythm to it that has been disrupted.

COSBY: (Reading) If it can't be corrected, all of existence could end in an instant.

RASCOE: "The Rhythm Of Time" - that's the title - follows a kid from Philly, Rahim, and his best friend, Kasia. Rahim gets transported from present day all the way back to June 1997. So, I mean, I guess that is old to somebody born in 2010. You see, Rahim just loves a rap group from the '90s that broke up. Questlove says the whole project is kind of rooted in stuff that he wished he had coming up.

QUESTLOVE: All of my creative choices in life literally stemmed from wanting to fill a void that I felt. I mean, I would have loved to have found the time machine back in 1986 to prevent Prince from breaking up The Revolution in Japan, you know? I would have loved that (laughter). You know what I mean? But then I thought about it, like, because I'm also obsessed with the movie "Back To The Future," and I know the perils of messing with time. And, like, I thought, like, what if you saved a group that you loved, and then you came back to the future, and that group actually wound up being horrible...


QUESTLOVE: ...Like, because, like...


QUESTLOVE: ...They should have broken up? There are some groups that I feel like, yeah, you should've only made four records, and then that's it.

RASCOE: Shawn, I wanted to ask you - 'cause, Quest, you mentioned the rap group that Rahim is obsessed with in the book. And this is a group that was created, you know, for the book, so it's a fictional group. But it's called Four the Hard Way. And you talked about, you know, him trying to get the group from breaking up. Why use that as a plot device?

COSBY: Well, you know, for me, taking everything that - like, what Quest was saying about his childhood, but also - me and him about the same age, and I'm a '90s hip-hop head kid. You know, I grew up on not just The Roots but Wu-Tang and early Jay-Z and, you know, Souls of Mischief and all these groups that maybe people today don't really listen to that are really foundational acts in hip-hop. So as a hip-hop head, it was just a really cool way to sort of harken back to those groups that maybe had, like Quest said, one or two or three good albums and what happened to them.

And as a fan, you feel like, oh, man, I wish they had made, like, 10 more albums. But then as an adult, you realize, hey, maybe that was their moment. That was their zenith. And I kind of wanted to use that as a life lesson for Rahim. Sometimes, what you think you want is not what you should have.

RASCOE: You know, I grew up in the '90s, as well, so all of these ideas of these artists as classics, it - you know, it can make you feel like, oh, this is classics now? (Laughter).

QUESTLOVE: I will admit that in my professional life, I probably decided to go full-fledged with this because I also want to get rid of my fear of communicating with anyone born after 2005...


QUESTLOVE: ...You know, 'cause, like, adults tend to go to their safe zone where they just, like, talk down to kids, and - pfft, you know, kids don't know what they talking about. Yeah, that ain't real music. Like, I don't want to be my dad. I remember, like, my dad, especially in '91 - like, I'd listen to A Tribe Called Quest or De La or Public Enemy, and my dad would roll his eyes, and - that's not music. And then I would see Quincy Jones' documentary, "Listen Up," and wow. Like, he's just an open book. He's accepting. And in my mind, I was like, man, why can't my dad be like that? And I vowed never, ever to be the grumpy, old person that does that.

COSBY: Couple weeks ago, I went to a middle-grade school to do a lecture, and there's nothing more terrifying than to try to convince 12 and 13-year-olds that you're cool. And so (laughter) it was like - yeah, that's a Herculean effort. But I will say that I also was able to talk about, you know, my writing journey and the book that, you know, Quest and I have done. And after the event, a young brother came up to me, 12 or 13 years old. And, you know, he says to me - he's like, hey, I kind of wanted to be a writer, but I didn't know any other - any Black writers. And - oh, you want to feel old, Questlove? The kid I was talking to - I said, yeah, man. I met Questlove. He's like, yeah, that's my mom's favorite band. I'm like...

RASCOE: (Laughter).

QUESTLOVE: Yo, I'm everybody's grandparents'...

COSBY: Let me put on my shawl and drink my herbal tea now as I sit in the corner.


COSBY: But this kid - you know, he was so happy to see a Black writer. He was so happy to see a writer that looked like him that had made it. And so, you know, I think that's the biggest thing I hope that we can do with this book - is inspire kids.

RASCOE: So, you know, clearly, this is meant to be a series, so I have to ask you both, are you guys going to keep working together? Are there going to be more books?

QUESTLOVE: So we jumped the gun a little bit. I will say that, yes, we are talking about a sequel right now. Both of us are - our plates are so full right now. Like, I know that every time I turn around, like, Shawn has a new book....

COSBY: (Laughter).

QUESTLOVE: ...Coming out every three seconds. But, you know, multitasking is probably my greatest occupation. So yeah, I think that we are going to take time out to write our next adventure for Rahim and Kasia.

COSBY: When you become a certain type of writer and you write in a certain genre, you know, you sort of get typecast. And so I have been very grateful and very blessed to have a lot of, you know, really, really great times as a crime writer - great success. But as a creative person, being able to tap into this other part of my brain, into this other part of my creativity, has been a blessing. And so, yeah, I definitely - we've discussed ideas for Rahim and Kasia's next adventure, and I love the idea of these two kids just kind of taking on the world. And I don't think there's anybody who is more full of ideas that I could work with than Ahmir. You know, I love getting a 3 o'clock text. You know, we need more dinosaurs, Shawn. We need more dinosaurs.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

COSBY: I love that stuff.

RASCOE: That's S. A. Cosby and Questlove. Their new book is called "The Rhythm Of Time." Thank you so much for talking with us.

QUESTLOVE: Thank you. Thank you so much for having us.

COSBY: Thank you for having us. Appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.