In early 1994, the not-quite-yet-legendary Roots crew found themselves stranded in France — and it was all Kurt Cobain's fault.
"At that point, the cash cows of Geffen records were dropping like flies," recalls Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson. "Aerosmith had decided to relocate to Columbia, Guns N' Roses wasn't gonna turn an album anytime soon. They were such a large, trusting label, they let us control our recording budget. So when Kurt Cobain passed away we basically stole our money and ran away to Europe because we feared that Universal was going to drop us."
Plans to use their Parisian flat as a hub for touring went awry when a Japanese tour fell through, leaving the band trapped. "We were living in these prostitute hotels in the seedy part of Pigalle, three to a room," ?uestlove says. "So when people have thoughts of France, there's a whole romantic idea that comes into their head, and mine is the exact opposite. That stuck close to me."
That experience came to mind when ?uestlove was approached to conceive a performance for PIFA. He focused his attention on the music of the French Impressionists, jazz interpretations of which had come in handy while he was working with the late producer J Dilla, looking for "dark chords" while producing Common's Electric Circus CD.
He's connecting those dots for an audience with Philly-Paris Lockdown, a hip-hop, classical and jazz interpretation of nine pieces by the likes of Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky. The multifaceted group he assembled for the occasion includes French-Israeli songstress Keren Ann, classical pianist Pallavi Mahidhara, jazz improvisers David Murray and D.D. Jackson, the female vocalists from the Dirty Projectors, and legendary Philly producer Larry Gold.
"You could say this is a real-life way of digging in the crates," ?uestlove explains. "I know that classical experimentation, especially when it comes to hip-hop music, is always iffy and sometimes reveals cheesy results. But when I mention hip-hop, I don't want people to think it's just a 'throw your hands in the air' affair. My definition of hip-hop is taking interesting parts and making a new whole. For me, this is a true fusion of many worlds from all different angles. I wanted to really go into uncharted territory."