…The Get By Man
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Talib Kweli Greene or simply Talib Kweli has been pumping out solid thought provoking Hip Hop beneath the media radar for the best part of two decades. He is known throughout the industry genre as a master lyricist. A fact recognised and put to rhyme by none other than Jay –Z, ‘If lyrics sold, truth be told lyrically I’d probably be Talib Kweli.’ (Moment of Clarity)
The Dood managed to overcome the logistics of arranging a rare ‘email interview’ with Talib Kweli the week leading up to his headline performance at The Roundhouse in London as part of the Lyrical Alliance.
The Dood: Firstly, your name: Talib in Arabic means ‘student’ and your middle name in Swahili means ‘truth.’ Do you consider yourself an eternal seeker of truth and an educator of people via your music?
Talib Kweli: I consider myself a seeker of knowledge as a man, and naturally that informs my art. My bigger platform as an artist is only valuable if I know better.
The Dood: Both your parents and brother are professors, your Mother notably specialising in English. Did this background help you with your lyrical structuring and phrasing?
Talib Kweli: My parents and the way I was raised without a doubt had a huge impact on how and what I write. I lived in Brooklyn, and we visited libraries and museums often.
The Dood: Given your academic background, were your family concerned about you pursuing a music and moreover a ‘Rap’ career?
Talib Kweli: My parents always encouraged self expression above many things, so they were happy that I found something I loved creatively, even back when they didn’t understand hip hop. I set out to make hip hop my career, and when my plan started to work, hip hop became a part of their lives as well.
The Dood: What career path would you have chosen if not music?
Talib Kweli: Probably teaching, or acting. My mom, dad and brother all teach.
The Dood: I recently interviewed a Rapper by the name of River Nelson, also hailing from Brooklyn. He speaks very highly of you as one of his lyrical mentors. He recalls participating in ciphers in Washington Sq Park on the campus of the University of New York, with you, Mos Def, Supernatural, Common, the Native Tongues, Boogiemonsters and Mr Man aka Khaliyl from Da Bush Babees et al. What do you remember of this period and was this where you honed your unique lyrical style and delivery?
Talib Kweli: I don’t remember anyone by that name but he’s got the scene exactly right so he had to be there. Or read about it somewhere (chuckle) but yes this is exactly where I developed into the MC I am today. It was that competition, it was like training camp or the minor leagues.
The Dood: How if at all did studying ‘experimental theatre’ at University aid your Hip-Hop career?
Talib Kweli: In theatre, I learned how to be on stage, how to breathe, how to create a sense memory and a back story for the rap caricature of myself that I was presenting. Blocking, writing, all of this helps with MCing.
The Dood: During your time in Cincinnati, Ohio you made your underground debut on ‘Doom’ an album by resident group Mood in 1995. You also made the historic link up with Hi-Tek and collaborated on a couple of albums as Reflection Eternal. These albums are only now being recognised for their creative genius. How would you describe your relationship and understanding with Hi-Tek? Great to see you’ve come back strong with the RPM Project.
Talib Kweli: Hi Tek and I are musical alike, and it has put us in a position to become great friends, family even. We don’t come from the same hood and we don’t even see the world the same in many ways, but we both love the music deeply and we recognize that when we get together something powerful happens.
The Dood: You also released a one off classic Hip-Hop album in partnership with Mos Def as Black Star – another album which has gained cult status and is often cited by your peers and aspiring artists alike. What’s the reason for these collaborations alongside your solo work?
Talib Kweli: Black Star came to be because Mos and I performed together so often that we had a good grasp of each other’s set, so it looked like a routine. Really I’m all about the collaborative effort. That’s why I went back to Reflection Eternal, that’s why I did Liberation with Madlib and am doing Idle Warship with Res. The solo stuff just helps me get stuff off my chest and pay the bills.
The Dood: Are you conscious of leaving an educational musical legacy with your music?
Talib Kweli: I feel like at the end of the day my musical canon will be impressive. God willing, I’m still working.
The Dood: Who are your Hip-Hop mentors and music inspirations in general – lyrically and musically?
Talib Kweli: Hip Hop mentors is a long list, includes Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Doug E Fresh, DJ Quik, Bun B, Chuck D, KRS One, The whole Roots crew, De La Soul, Tribe (Called Quest), Latifah, the list goes on and on.
The Dood: On ‘RPM’ your latest link up with Hi-Tek as Reflection Eternal, on the track, ‘In This World’ you spit the line…’The recipe for my success is one part ‘Pain & Suffering’ and two parts ‘Brains & Hustling,’ sprinkling it over Hi-Tek’s production.’ Would this lyric sum up what Talib Kweli is all about in essence?
Talib Kweli: Sure why not. Let’s put it on a box and sell it.
The Dood: Staying with Reflection Eternal and the RPM album, the ‘Ballad of Black Gold’ is a potent commentary on the oil industry, oil disasters, its money men etc. Does it frustrate you that this, along with much of your work does not get main stream radio airplay? The exception being ‘Get By’ produced by a young Kanye West. I know Jay Z gives you mad props and you have both acknowledged this media oversight on the ‘Black’ album and ‘Beautiful Struggle’ album respectively. Correct?
Talib Kweli: The music business is based on trends. I’m not good at following trends so my music and my business kind of exist outside of the industry. The fans that support me are not counted in the industry system because many of them are not buying or even checking for what the machine is putting out. This is why many artists, executives, TV and radio personalities come and go. But they all have to continue to deal with me at some point.
The Dood: We at UK Vibe are looking forward to your upcoming visit to London on October 16th as part of the Lyrical Alliance. Why did you agree to the gig?
Talib Kweli: My friend asked me. That was it.
The Dood: Will you be performing tracks from your past solo/collaborative projects, promoting material from your highly anticipated new album or both?
Talib Kweli: Not sure, I will decide before the show.
The Dood: Were you happy and proud with the progress made by the Nkiru Centre for Education and Culture, formerly Brooklyn’s oldest black-owned bookstore that you and Mos Def purchased and converted?
Talib Kweli: I was very proud of Nkiru for as long as it lasted.
The Dood: Which of the current crop of artist give you hope for the future of Hip-Hop?
Talib Kweli: Skyzoo, Jean Grae, Strong Arm Steady, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West.
The Dood: Can you elaborate on The Year of the Blacksmith interactive website? The medium which allows individuals to express themselves on numerous topics from music to politics, race to religion?
Talib Kweli: YOTB is a home for like minds, people who are fans of mine can visit www.yearoftheblacksmith.com
• Prisoner of Conscious (TBA)
• Gutter Rainbows (2010)
• Eardrum (2007)
• Right About Now (2005)
• The Beautiful Struggle (2004)
• Quality (2002)
With Mos Def as Black Star:
• Black Star (1998)
With Hi-Tek as Reflection Eternal:
• Revolutions Per Minute (2010)
• Train of Thought (2000)
• Liberation (2007)