In SLAM 17 (April, 1997), we brought together three of Philadelphia’s finest—the 76ers’ Allen Iverson and The Roots’ Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Kamal Gray—for a roundtable discussion about the trappings of fame and the business side of the entertainment world. With AI’s inevitable Hall of Fame induction now officially on its way, we thought this would be a fun time to revisit this Q+A. Enjoy!—Ed.
You start with Broad Street. You have to start with Broad Street, 10-plus miles of the longest street in the US. You stand in the middle of a concrete jungle on a sweltering June day, surrounded by the remains of the old Met theater and the dark and dirty homes that used to be beautiful and wonder—what happened? What happened to Philadelphia? You try to sort out your feelings, try to capture the sight and emotion in words, yet you can’t do that. You just stand there, mostly in awe. In awe of the degradation that took place after Julius “Dr. J” Erving retired and Teddy Pendergrass ended up in a wheelchair, and you wonder—what happened to Philadelphia?
Philadelphia got a whiff of Murphy’s Law, and hell broke loose. Barkley being traded, MOVE, bankruptcy, the closing of such to hold some resonance with the home folks. Something. Anything.
Today, however, things are looking brighter. Every corner in downtown Philly is buzzing with construction crews. It could be called the Philly renaissance. The Broad Street project, Waterfront renovations, a new convention center and the new CoreStates Center—all are helping restore the city to the vibrant, chill-ass place it once was. Old Philly was a city of music, sports and entertainment—the O’Jays, Patti LaBelle, Teddy Pendergrass, Bill Cosby, the Doctor, Mo Cheeks, George McGinnis, Darryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins, and the list goes on.
But a second generation is taking this set by storm. The Sixers’ Allen Iverson has electrified the joint like no one since the Doctor. And the music? Now you know better than to ask that question. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince have been blowin’ up the joint since the ‘80s, but now it’s The Roots’ turn. A crew of live musicians with hip-hop soul, they bring us joints like “The Hypnotic.” Like Iverson, they bring us the real. They let us know that there is more to life than basketball, mics and puffin’ reefer. We brought together Ahmir and Kamal from the Roots and Iverson—the soul of the new, improved Philadelphia—to talk about reality.
SLAM: In the business that both of you are involved in, you are only as good as your last CD, or in Allen’s case, his last game. When kids out here out here say they want to be the next Allen Iverson, or cats say, “I want to be the next Roots,” how do you respond?
Ahmir: It’s a business.
SLAM: Do you like the business side of it?
Ahmir: I’ll do it, because it’s a business, and I’ll play the game. It takes a lot away from you; you don’t have time for yourself. I’m pretty sure Allen can reiterate the same thing—it’s tiring. Especially for us, because we’re still a struggling group. We are not a multi-platinum group, and there are certain things and certain dues that you have to pay in order to get certain things in life. For us, that means you go until 5 in the morning. You get up at 8. You travel on a bus, sometimes 20 hours. You don’t get time to enjoy it. Even now as we speak, out of this six-man crew, four are down with sore throats, the flu—you name it, we have it. I hate the business part. I hate the fact that someone else can dictate what a particular culture is. I don’t like that I have to follow a certain system.
SLAM: How about you, Allen?
Iverson: Damn. The business side gets frustrating sometimes. You don’t want that all the time; you want to just chill sometime. I guess it’s worth it. It’s the most important part. Sometimes I’m into it more than others, especially when you look at the value. It’s all good.
SLAM: How do you feel when you go into a Tower Records or pick up a magazine or look at a billboard somewhere, and there you are?
Ahmir: It’s very anti-climatic. There’s so much work that goes into achieving something like that. You’re like, “Damn!” It’s very anti-climatic. I’m not being ungrateful, but the business end can really interfere with your art form.
Kamal: I’m cool with it. I look at it like this: we all could be pumping gas. You got to do what you got to do and recognize that this thing is about self. You can’t be about nobody else, otherwise you’re going to be following motherfuckers.
Iverson: When I was younger, I always dreamed of being on magazine covers. It still bugs me out. I like for my mom and my sisters to see stuff like that now. I’m used to it now, but it gives me joy to see my mom enjoy it.
SLAM: What is your goal in terms of reaching the masses? What are you trying to accomplish?
Ahmir: At the end of the day, I’m trying to make sure that grade-A quality work reaches the masses. That is one of the gratifying things about this business. It makes me feel good when Q-Tip or D’Angelo comes up to me and says, “Hey man, that shit that you all did was dope.”
SLAM: What are the messages that both of you and trying to get out there to the people?
Iverson: My message?
Iverson: I’m here. Be a man. You want to be an MC? You want to play football or basketball? You already know you got to work. You got to practice and bust your ass. Bleed. Sweat. Every day. You have to go to school and maintain a certain grade point average. You got to work. That’s it. You are not promised nothing in this life.
You have no control over what the system can do to you. If they feel like bothering me right now, they can do it. They can do anything they want. They run this world we live in.
I’m just saying, be a man and live; that’s what I want for everybody. Don’t worry about what the next man is saying, or what the media is saying. Just live, man.
When you die? You want to die happy? That’s it. Just leave me alone and let me do my thing. I live everyday like it’s my last. That’s the message I got. You have no control over what these people can do to you, man. Ahmir, I know you all doing your thing. I know you hear the critics here and the critics there. But you all continue to do your thing, right?
Iverson: Nobody’s going to stop you from doing what you love to do. Just do it. Don’t even worry about the extra shit that everybody else is kicking. I don’t even hear it. I don’t even hear it, because all I want to do is take care of my family and live. That’s it!
Kamal: My man just said it all.