The last time AllHipHop.com spoke to Talib Kweli, it was prior to the release of his highly anticipated sophomore solo effort, The Beautiful Struggle. In that interview, Kweli made it clear that he wished the journalism community would spend some time talking to him about his music, instead of his personal stances on things. Three months later, The Beautiful Struggle has been released and has been met with an onslaught of reviews that overwhelmingly proclaim it as slightly better than average. For any other artist, such press would only generate a thumb licking pause as you flip through the latest copy of whatever Hip Hop magazine you favor, but with Kweli’s superb body of work, anything referring to him as average is bound to make you breathe and stop. Here, AllHipHop speaks with Kweli about the album, gives him an opportunity to address the press and gets the word on the "Beautiful Mixtape Vol. 2."
AllHipHop.com: This album, more so than your previous work, has received less than stellar reviews. How do you respond to people who think The Beautiful Struggle ranks low in your catalog of music?
Talib: Well, I think the music on the album is excellent. I think that most of the criticism, not all of it, but most of the criticism has been off-point. The criticism has had nothing to do with the actually quality of the production, it has to do with what people expect from me. I think a lot of these journalists want to see me in a certain light and want to see me make a certain type of music, and if I make music that doesn’t fit the type of artist they think I am then they question my intentions. The criticism I’ve seen has been a question of what my intentions where in making it, not so much a question of the quality of the actually songs.
AllHipHop.com: So basically you feel if this album came from another artist it would have been received differently?
Talib: Yeah, this album from another artist, or this album with the same beats but different names for each song. What I realize is that these journalists don’t really know who I am as an artist. I’m getting all this criticism from the music nerds, but real people on the street are coming up to me and telling me ‘we love ‘We Got the beat,’ we love ‘Around My Way,’ thank you for making ‘Black Girl Pain.’’ I’m getting responses that I never got before. Before I use to get all the critical acclaim, and nobody real came up to me to pay attention and now it’s the opposite.
AllHipHop.com: Are you getting the impression that these “real” people, to use your words, that keep coming up to you are new to your music?
Talib: Umm yeah, they may not be new to my name but they are new to the music.
AllHipHop.com: For someone like you, who pursues their craft so passionately, is there any amount of disappointment when you read reviews that don’t speak so highly of your music?
Talib: No, maybe a few years ago it might have but for the last three albums I’ve put out, I’ve gotten great reviews, and it hasn’t lead to any more record sales. It hasn’t created a greater connection with me and real people, it doesn’t really do s**t beside make you feel good or bad. So yeah, the reviews aren’t stellar and I’m not used to having average reviews, but I’m on tour with the Beastie Boys performing these songs that the magazines are specifically dissing, and the people are going crazy.
AllHipHop.com: Was ‘Back Up Offa Me,’ an anticipatory reaction to how this album might be received?
Talib: No, that was one of the first song that me and Hi-Tek had did in a while. When we got into the studio, I just tried to write subject matter that both of us could relate to. A lot of artists have been in situations where you are working hard and you grinding, and then people around you that you may have grown up with feel like you owe them something just because they know you. So I was just speaking to that.
AllHipHop.com: What inspires a song like “Broken Glass?”
Talib: This album I tried to let the tracks lead to where I was gonna go, and when Pharrel first brought me the track it sounded like glass breaking to me, and he was like, “Yeah, you should call the song ‘Broken Glass.’” I originally just wrote like a battle line type of thing to it, and it was cool, but Pharrell hadn’t heard the track yet and he mentioned to me that he felt the track could use a story. I’m not too good with stories, but I’ve been experimenting, so I wrote a story.
AllHipHop.com: But what motivated this specific story?
Talib: The track did. I knew I wanted to write a story and I always liked the way The Beatles said ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,’ and how it was an acronym for LSD. I always thought that was kind of fly. So with the first line I wrote, ‘This is the Story of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,’ and I just let the story tell itself from that point.
AllHipHop.com: You have said many times that you are not a religious person in the denominational sense. Nonetheless, The Beautiful Struggle is full of religious commentary.
Talib: Because I think that the way religion is perceived and the way people carry out their worship is dangerous. People run their lives by religion, yet it’s the thing that the most blood has been spilt over in this world. People who follow these religions don’t know the history of these religions or why many of their doctrines exist. The one thing that’s consistent about young people, is that we are all looking for some sort of spiritual balance. You may not hear about it as much in Pop music, but it’s something that everyone goes through, whether it’s Britney Spears wearing the Kabala thing or whether it’s Jay-Z’s “Lucifer” record, it’s there.
AllHipHop.com: Where you aware that Geffen planed to drop Mos’ album two weeks after yours?
Talib: They planned to drop Mos’ album the same day as mine.
Talib: Yeah, and we had to fight them just to get the two weeks. They don’t give a f**k.
AllHipHop.com: I heard there may be a second installment to the ‘Beautiful Mixtape,’ any truth to that?
Talib: Yeah, it’s done it will be out in the next couple of weeks.
AllHipHop.com: Who’s on it?
Talib: Ghostface, Mos Def, Jean Grae, Ludacris, Wordsworth, Krondon, Musiq, Planet Asia, Common, David Banner, Dead Prez, The Game, Killer Mike, J-Hood, Phil Da Agony, Kardinal Offishall, Hi-Tek, Snoop Dogg, and Saigon.
AllHipHop.com: Speaking of Jean Grae, the chemistry that you two have is bananas, have you ever talked about doing a full project together?
Talib: We’ve never talked about it, but it has crossed my mind though. I knew Jean Grae as a human being way before I knew her as an MC so she’s someone that will always be in my life. I asked Jean to get on the Reflection Eternal album but I don’t know where her head was at, she wasn’t ready and at that point it was hard to get up with her. Now she’s being a lot more productive.
AllHipHop.com: I heard that you couldn’t get into the Nas’ Central Park concert, so you jumped the fence?
AllHipHop.com: Did you dig the concert.
Talib: Man, that s**t was tight as f**k.
AllHipHop.com: Where does Beautiful Struggle rank to you among your albums?
Talib: I don’t know yet. It just came out, I need some time to put the album in its proper perspective.
AllHipHop.com: Did you achieve what you wanted to musically with the album?
Talib: Yeah, if I wouldn’t have, I would not have put it out.