The Roots longtime manager Rich Nichols passed on Wednesday at the age of 55. Nichols finally succumbed to a long battle with leukemia. For the band, he was a guiding hand, having been with them since the beginning in 1992.
In the wake of his passing, the band released an official statement.
“The Roots Family are devastated to announce the passing of Richard Nichols, the band’s longtime manager, after a long battle with leukemia. Nichols, 55, a Philadelphia native, managed the band from its inception in 1992, and was instrumental in every aspect of The Roots’ creative, cultural, and professional life over the past two decades. Nichols is survived by his wife, Mercedes Martinez, his sons Amiri Nichols and Rakim Nichols, his sisters Rochelle Nichols-Solomon, Rebecca Dennis, his brothers Russell Nichols and Reginald Nichols, and the many individuals and artists he mentored in his lifetime.”
In Questlove’s anti-memoir Mo’ Meta Blues, Rich Nichols served the same role I imagined he did in Questlove’s real life: to cut through bullshit at the same speed the afroed drummer attacks his helpless snare. The book followed an atypical format that included “emails” from Questlove’s co-writer to his editor, and several lengthy asides and footnotes from Nichols.
In an interview with the LA Times discussing the book, and specifically why Nichols’ words comprised such a significant portion of Meta, Quest said “Once I got to the fourth chapter I was like, ‘I need Rich.’ He’s always the angel-devil voice on my shoulders.”
It’s no surprise then, that my favorite quote in the book, hell, maybe one of my favorite quotes ever, comes not from Questlove, but from Nichols. In response to Black Thought, who is inarguably one of the greatest rappers to ever rap, making a claim in an interview that any member of The Roots could potentially put out a platinum album Nichols said: “Hubris is such a slippery slope. When I get a whiff I’m inclined to pull out Occam’s Razor and hack my way through a nigga’s loftiness. While you don’t want to demoralize the artist or offhandedly denigrate their vision, it’s simply irresponsible to not manage expectations.”
I didn’t know Rich Nichols, but I know that the music world is poorer for having lost him. The common theme of those who offered words of remembrance is how much they learned from him. As listeners, fans, writers, and critics, we could stand to follow his example and be more vigilant and speak out when we encounter bullshit in all of its insidious forms. R.I.P.