Ahmir ‘?uestlove’ Thompson will soon be adding another job to his exhaustive list of titles: professor. The Roots’ drummer will be joining Universal Music Enterprises vice president of A&R and Grammy winning reissues producer Harry Weinger to co-teach a course titled ‘Classic Albums’ at the Clive Davis Institue for Recorded Music at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts this coming Spring semester.
The two credit class will focus on the concept of what it means for something to be called classic or seminal, as well as take a close look at the music, lyrics, production, business aspects — such as promotion and marketing — that informed the release and reception of the album, and try to provide a context as to why these albums have stood the test of time, according to Jason King, associate professor of recorded music and head of history and criticism at the Institute, who confirmed the course.
The class is expected to look at albums by Sly & The Family Stone ( Stand!, There’s A Riot Goin’ On), Aretha Franklin ( Lady Soul), Led Zeppelin ( IV), Prince ( Dirty Mind), Michael Jackson ( Off The Wall), and the Beastie Boys ( Paul’s Boutique), among others.
“We wanted to bring [?uestlove] in because we felt he should really be a professor; in a lot of ways he already is an informal, unofficial professor, not just in hip hop but in music in general,” King told Billboard.biz. “He’s one of the smartest people in music, besides being a fantastic musician. We thought [this class] would speak to his strengths.”
The idea for the class came out of an NPR blog post over the summer from intern Austin Cooper, who wrote about Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back as part of NPR’s series asking interns to review “classic albums they’d never heard before.” Cooper’s rather dismissive take on the early hip-hop standard-bearer prompted ?uestlove to respond in the comments, saying “ur (sic) job is to find out why” classic records are considered as such by researching and uncovering the context in which they were first released. That prompted King to reach out to both ?uestlove and Weinger with the idea for the course.
Weinger has produced, mixed, and edited liner notes for classic Motown reissues, James Brown’s back catalog (including the 4-disc box set Star Time) and the Verve Music catalog, and a number of funk and soul classic compilations, as well as being named an “honorary Temptation” by original group members Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin. He has taught classes on James Brown, the Motown Legacy, and Stevie Wonder for the Clive Davis Institute.
And ?uestlove has worked with both Weinger and the Institute before, though this is his first time as a professor, serving as a guest speaker for various classes and as the closing keynote speaker for the EMP Pop Conference in 2012.
“[?uestlove] really does represent this hybrid figure in the music industry at this point, this person who is a musician, has social media abilities, is an archivist, has an incredible music mind, and really understands the history of music in a way that you would previously only expect from music journalists,” said King. “So it’s exciting to have him in this position doing something that in many ways comes naturally to him.”
Other courses that are currently offered in the Fall semester include a course on Apple taught by Evolver.fm’s Eliot Van Buskirk, a Freddie Mercury course taught by King, and a look at the 25th anniversary of Paul Simon’s Graceland album taught by Ashley Kahn.