Talib Kweli performing at the 2012 Ilosaarirock festival
|Birth name||Talib Kweli Greene|
October 3, 1975 |
Brooklyn, New York City, New York, U.S.
|Labels||Javotti Media, EMI, Capitol, Rawkus, Geffen, Blacksmith, Warner Bros.|
|Associated acts||Black Star, Busta Rhymes, Curren$y, DeStorm Power, Kanye West, Black Thought, MF DOOM, Mos Def, Lupe Fiasco, Madlib, Mary J. Blige, Pharrell, Reflection Eternal, Res, The Roots, Kendrick Lamar, Cassper Nyovest, The Procussions, Stephen|
I think that I am seeing the Internet and seeing technology take and seeing how the work I do through music directly affects people's lives better than any politician I've ever met.
But it becomes disrespectful when the artist's process is not respected.
As far as being on a major label, some labels get it and get what they have to do, and some labels don't. I don't think the label I'm on necessarily gets it, but I think over time they're gonna have to.
I remember looking back on a photo of me… wearing a suit that was, like, two sizes too big for me. I think a lot of guys don't know what fits.
Things are fluid in this world, and if you don't remain fluid, you get lost in the sauce.
The materialism, the brashness, the misogyny – everything in hip-hop is amplified. Misogyny is a good example of something that is completely amplified in hip-hop. I do think there is more than enough of a balance, though, for fans who are willing to search it out.
As an artist, I have to be a leader of my fans, not, like, follow them. Because if I chose to follow them, you know, they could do it. You know, it's me who's doing it.
You'll be fooled if you only get your hip-hop from the mainstream, you know. The things that move people are not just found in the mainstream cultures. And when we talk about hip-hop in general, hip-hop's basically preoccupied with life.
What is Norah Jones' style? Is it just the albums that we've heard? She has a rock group where she plays guitar in, downtown in New York, so do we really know her style?
A lot of these people, these program directors, just like anybody else in the world, even though they're supposed to be leaders in the world, they're followers. They follow what they think someone else is doing, instead of trying to blaze a trail.
Young kids should be doing music that has shock value. They'll grow out of it.
You know, there's a lot of activism that doesn't deal with empowerment, and you have to empower yourself in order to be relevant to any type of struggle.
I think the line is where you're in the studio, you're creating. That belongs to you as an artist. Nothing should taint that. I shouldn't be thinking about what the fans want, I shouldn't be thinking about what the radio wants, what the label wants, what your manager wants, a song for the chicks, a song for the street.
Ain't nobody making music to not be heard and the easiest way to be heard is to be on the radio, but you should never compromise who you are, your values or your morals.
You have to learn how to harness technology so you can use it for positive stuff without being disconnected from nature.
I don't think that early hip hop stood out to be a social critique. A lot of fans of mine think that hip hop's ultimate responsibility is to critique social structures.
I think all those artists are artists who are appreciated because you believe their words and you appreciate their honesty in their music. If you don't appreciate the honesty in the music, the beat can be fly as hell but you'll never give an emcee props.
Homosexuality in hip-hop is an extension of homosexuality in the black community. The black community is very, very conservative when it comes to homosexuality, and I don't mean conservative in the good way, like we're saving money. I mean very intolerant.
If I focus on being an activist and my job is to be a rapper, I'm not going to be as good of a rapper. I need to focus on hip-hop and focus on making the music, so that when the activists come to me and they need my voice to create a platform, then I've got enough people listening to me. Not because I'm conscious, but because I'm dope.
Well if somebody's giving me a script, I'll consider it. But it's not something I'm chasing.
I like collaboration because, first of all, I'm good at writing lyrics. I don't know how to make beats. I don't play instruments. I'm not a good singer. So even when you see a solo album of mine, it's still a collaboration.
It doesn't get any more underground, conscious or indie than Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, but because they got a couple of really big pop hits, actually some of the biggest pop hits that hip-hop has ever seen, people are missing that part of their story. People are not counting that blessing.
The way I see it, if people truly love my music, they will support me in some way down the road.
And you know, art as commerce, doesn't really make too much sense, they don't go together.
What's more condescending and corny than someone telling you how much more money they have than you and telling you basically, 'I don't care about poor people,' which is a large part of what you hear of corporate hip-hop on the radio.
Being called a conscious rapper is quite a compliment. It's a great thing to be. But as an artist, my nature is to not be in a box.
So I think hip-hop is moving and is going to continue to move in the direction of rappers just being honest with themselves, whether you're talking about Common and Mos Def or Nas and 50 cent.
Before Eminem, the idea that there would be a white rapper that anybody would really check for was fantastic or amazing or impossible.
I think once you're in the public eye, whether you're a boss, a teacher or whatever you do, that you're automatically in the position of role model. You have people looking up to you, so whether you choose to accept it or not is a different question.
That's what hip-hop is: It's sociology and English put to a beat, you know.
I take certain steps to make sure I'm relevant artistically. I always have new music and a reason to be on the road. I'm not just playing 'Get By' over and over. I have 12 albums.
So I just had to step up how I was doing it and the moment that I stepped up and the moment I focused all my energy on that is when things started to happen. So there's a direct relationship between my inspiration and my output.
You gotta eat right, you gotta have healthy habits, you know, and balance out your decadence with a healthy lifestyle during the day.
Honestly, you have to take care of yourself. That's probably something I have learned on the road.
My kids are the most inspiring thing that pushes me. It used to be because they were born, and I had to take care of them. Now it's because my son raps, and he's better than me. So now I gotta keep up with him, you know what I'm saying?
I'm a fan of Bjork, a fan of Premier, you know, those are the first two names that come to my mind. You know, I've learned a lot from every person I've collaborated with, from Madlib to Jean Grae and Hi-Tek, to Mos to DJ Quik, to even somebody like Jermaine Dupri. I've taken something important away from every experience.
If you look at my career, doing albums with Norah Jones, Justin Timberlake, Gucci Mane and Lil Wayne or KRS-One and Jean Grae, I can't be pigeonholed.
When I'm in the studio, I'm strictly thinking about the beats, the rhymes and the song. The decision I make once the songs are created, and there's a barcode put on the package, and I'm out there in the street selling it, those decisions as a businessman are different than the creative decisions you make.
I think hip-hop is no more misogynistic than America is as a society. I just think hip-hop is a lot more brash, a lot more bold, a lot more loquacious. There are a lot more words that go into a hip-hop song than go into a regular song.
Artists look at the environment, and the best artists correctly diagnose the problem. I'm not saying artists can't be leaders, but that's not the job of art, to lead. Bob Marley, Nina Simone, Harry Belafonte – there are artists all through history who have become leaders, but that was already in them, nothing to do with their art.
I am not a prisoner of conscious, but people try to make me one sometimes. It is both a gift and a curse. It's a high honour but can create limitations – I have to be fluid.
Even an independent label is looking for a hit, they're not looking for a record that's not gonna do well.
When Occupy Wall Street happened, I took my money out of Citibank. I already had problems with all the banks – Citibank, Bank of America – but I was kind of just too lazy to take my money out until I saw how Citibank responded to Occupy Wall Street.
I not only wanted to showcase lyrical skills but also continue to drop knowledge on the hiphop community. I'm looking to elevate through my music, and through my music I educate.
I tour whether I have album out or not. I tour more than any other hip-hop artist.
I started rapping because I wanted people to hear what I have to say, I want as many people to hear me as possible, and I do everything in my power to make that pop.
My personal take on politics is I deal with social situations and cultural situations in my music and in my life. I have said on record many times that I haven't voted. I'm not the type of person who says, 'I'm never going to vote.' I think it's clear to me that our system has failed us.
I don't go into any album with pressing issues. I just try to write songs.
There's a lot of activism that doesn't deal with empowerment, and you have to empower yourself in order to be relevant to any type of struggle.
You know, I've learned a lot from every person I've collaborated with, from Madlib to Jean Grae and Hi-Tek, to Mos to DJ Quik, to even somebody like Jermaine Dupri. I've taken something important away from every experience.
Skip the religion and politics, head straight to the compassion. Everything else is a distraction.
The only way for me to be an artist is to be honest in my craft. If I veer from that, I'm not giving the investors what they want. Sometimes it's my job as an artist to know what I want to do, even when the fans tell me different.
People consider Black Star a great album, and I think it's a classic album. But the fact is, both me and Mos Def have made better albums since Black Star.
I'm not looking to set a standard… but, I believe I have offered a challenge to others with my work.
If I'm performing with a DJ, it's all on me to draw the energy. I like the camaraderie of a band.
My fondest memories were watching the Beastie Boys get prepped to come on stage. They had a lot of antics and they play a lot of basketball… then they were giving out cameras to the crowd, and performing from the bleachers. The most important thing I learned was that you control your crowd, not the other way around.
You make knowledge relevant to life and you make it important for children to learn things that will really relate to things going on in their lives, and not abstract.
There just needs to be a gay rapper. He doesn't have to be flamboyant, just a rapper who identifies as gay – who's better than everybody. Unfortunately hip-hop is so competitive that in order for fringe groups to get in, you gotta be better than whoever's the best.
There are staples to my show. I have to be conscious about switching things up because I know people who saw me last year will say, 'He did that last time.' But if certain things work, they work.
My musical influence is really from my father. He was a DJ in college. My parents met at New York University. So he listened to, you know, Motown, and he listened to Bob Dylan. He listened to Grateful Dead and Rolling Stones, but he also listened to reggae music. And he collected vinyl.
We're in an illusion about what our role is in world politics and foreign affairs, and our policies are killing and destroying and doing a lot of things that we are not aware of.
When I look at the arc of my career, my focus is on lyricism, right? I own that.
Being called 'conscious' is a great thing to be, but it's the connotations and preconceived notions that come with the buying audience about what conscious music can be.
The beautiful thing about hip-hop is it's like an audio collage. You can take any form of music and do it in a hip-hop way and it'll be a hip-hop song. That's the only music you can do that with.
I met Mos Def around that time but I didn't hook up with him until I was about 17 or 18.
There's consciousness in my music, and my music comes from a conscious place. And when people say that, I certainly take it as a compliment. But my job, in terms of selling my music, is to be universal and to try to get it to everybody.
I'm not an artist that has a big, huge radio record that's going to be on BET.
You have to know when to be arrogant. You have to when to be humble. You have to know when to be hard and you have to know when to be soft.