Arts & Entertainment, Music

DJing at the White House: Surviving Failure


Lesson time 17:22 min

Questlove explains the value of failure and encourages you to take chances as a DJ.

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Topics include: DJing at the White House: Surviving Failure


[MUSIC PLAYING] - The most important thing that you can do as a DJ is survive failure. I encourage failure because failure is the way that you really learn the lesson. Probably the greatest failure story I ever had is probably the one gig that I dreamed of doing all my life. During the eight years of the Obama administration, it was my dream to be the first hip hop DJ inside the White House. I did not get that because I was on tour. And so just throughout the years, the White House was like, can you do this party, can you do this party, can do this party, and I couldn't do it. And it just so happens that I happened to be at an event with Barack Obama maybe like four months before he was to leave in January, 2016. And he's like, hey, man, we're running out of time, you know? You got four months left. You said you'd do it for me. And I was like, all right, all right, all right. I'll do, I promise. So they were going to have me do the very last party at the White House. And so I had secretly been planning for this moment for eight years. So that whole idea of the "CSI," and having urine on my wall, and figuring out how to connect Michael Jackson to Lil Wayne and connect Lil Wayne to like Willie Nelson-- I mean, I was going all over the place. I was trying to figure out how to connect Fela and country music and find polka music and connect that with Kraftwerk. I was trying to think of the most zaniest, experimental ideas I could do. And pretty much every gig that I've had between 2018 and 2016, I saw as study research on how to kill them at the White House, and rock them, and just give them the greatest time ever. So after every gig, I'd take notes. OK, this worked. This transition worked. This transition worked. Then I got rid of what didn't work, kept what worked, and then experimented some more. And then just throughout the years, I grew it and grew it. And so when I was ready for my musical Frankenstein experiment to happen, it was June of 2015. I'm part of the production team of "Hamilton." And so when we had our victory party, the night that we won all those Tony Awards, then Lin-Manuel asked me to DJ the "Hamilton" afterparty outdoors in Central Park, and we were there from 10:00 PM till about 6:00 in the morning. And I tell you, I created miracles. I mean, the amount of love letters, I mean, of established actresses just writing me these letters of everything I ever wanted to hear someone say to me about the thought and consideration that I ever put into a DJ set, they said it back to me. Like, oh, my God, the transition you did from duh-duh-duh-duh-duh, it was like it was in the same key, and then you made it work. And I was like, wow, I never thought that could fit together. And then when you slowed that-- like it was my dream. It was like the adoration and that dragon I've been chasing all my life. It was beyond he's a jolly good fellow. Perfect. I had the perfect set, and it was June. So I was like, a...

About the Instructor

Ahmir Thompson—better known as Questlove—is an iconic DJ, the drummer for The Roots, and the “coolest man on late-night,” but his first love is collecting and mixing music. Now the Grammy winner is sharing his passion with you. Explore DJ techniques, expand your musical vocabulary, and learn how to glide from genre to genre—including hip-hop, neo-soul, jazz, R&B, and more—to curate your own perfect playlist.

Featured Masterclass Instructor


The iconic DJ and Roots drummer Questlove teaches you how to be a better DJ, deepen your love of music, and make a perfect playlist.

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