Questlove Is the Coolest Person of 2013

The Roots drummer beat out the competition this year

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Illustration by Tomasz Walenta for TIME

The editors who pick TIME’s Person of the Year can’t comprehend the pressure that comes with a perfect winning streak. In 1975 TIME picked American Women, who have not had a song written about them since the Guess Who. In 1988 the editors picked Earth, which is still stuck in the same exact orbit, going nowhere. In 2006 they picked You, and look where You are now.

Meanwhile, all three of my previous choices for Coolest Person of the Year—James Franco, Ryan Gosling and Lena Dunham—have proved me right by continuing their coolness, though I did get a little nervous when Franco co-hosted the 2011 Oscars. So with the pressure on, my committee chose cautiously, rejecting the slightly too clever suggestion of Coolest Person of the Year board member Judd Apatow, who nominated crack-smoking Toronto mayor Rob Ford—who, admittedly, is cool in that he doesn’t care what anyone thinks about him, crack cocaine or Toronto. We also had to veto the slightly too mainstream ideas of board member Henry Winkler, who suggested Bruno Mars because he has “songs of passion, and cool hats too” and Prince Harry, who has been naked in Vegas, which is not a good look for someone with red hair. Along with every other look.

We needed someone who was classically cool. A person in a hip-hop band, a music producer, a DJ. A man who has his own line of Nike sneakers and owns a hoodie shop on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. A guy who has lived in Europe and loves art-house movies. A person who goes by many names, several of which have a question mark in them. We were so traditional in our choice that the 2013 Coolest Person of the Year has the most clichéd cool job in the world: he’s a drummer.

Questlove, the drummer of the alt-hip-hop band the Roots, dropped bits of coolness everywhere this year. He wrote two cool books, Mo’ Meta Blues—a smart postmodern memoir—and a coffee-table book chronicling Soul Train, the show so cool that my dad, in a failed attempt to prevent me from growing up to be a dork, forced me to watch it as a child. He composed the music for Comedy Central’s very cool Inside Amy Schumer. His website, Okayplayer, which allows alternative musicians to create songs together online, made the dopest Christmas sweater ever. Every Thursday night, he deejays at a bowling alley in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. And since the Roots are Jimmy Fallon’s house band, he’s about to become the bandleader on The Tonight Show. He also deejayed at 13 weddings this year, including that of 2013 Coolest Person runner-up Pharrell Williams. We picked Questlove over Williams because there’s no song titled “Last Night a Recently Married Guy Saved My Life.”

When I called Questlove to inform him of his honor, he did what all cool people do, which is to claim he was uncool in high school. “Does it speak volumes that my first response is the high school nerd in me being afraid of if I’ll get any backlash from Kanye for getting this accolade?” he asked. But Kanye West tries so hard, whereas Questlove exudes cool comfort. Also, if we picked Kanye, he couldn’t interrupt this column and claim the honor for himself, which we’re kind of hoping happens.

Questlove knows that being cool means risking being uncool. He wears bow ties made of Legos. His band sings about social issues. He says he and Black Thought, the lead MC of the Roots, used to argue about Questlove’s earnest curiosity and lack of posturing. “He and I had private clashes of me wearing my geek flag a little too much in the group, which extinguished his version of cool. I kind of made a decision in 2005: Look, I’m tired of hiding.” Hiding is very uncool.

He has even secretly become a stand-up comic, having appeared at New York City’s tiny Slipper Room seven times, which he’s told no one besides the guy who does audience warm-up on Fallon’s show. “It’s deeply personal,” Questlove says. “I don’t know if I’ll ever invite anyone.” That’s why we just did it for him.

We’re far more confident about this choice than TIME’s editors are with the Pope, Edward Snowden or whomever they picked in their secret Person of the Year meetings they won’t let me join. And while it’s unlikely the Pope or Snowden is going to talk about being Person of the Year all the time on their TV shows, which they don’t have, we made sure Fallon would talk about Questlove. “Questlove is the coolest,” says Fallon. “There’s a lot of love coming from that guy.” Save it for the show, Jimmy.

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