From the most hedonistically concerned club hopper, to the most obsessively analytical college kid, and everyone else in between, Brooklyn’s Talib Kweli is respected and admired. “Get By,” from 2002’s Quality is Kweli’s biggest hit, and it proved to be a sign of things to come for Kweli. Many who have followed his career felt the song to be a perfect hybrid of the uncompromising substances Kweli is revered for and the head nodding production and flow necessary to garner a wider audience. His unquestioned skills and transcending respect were boldly underscored when one of hip hop’s most universally deified Emcees spit the following line, “if skillz sold truth be told/I’d probably be/lyrically Talib Kweli.” The verse from Jay-Z’s “Moment of Clarity” left all who know Kweli cheerfully affirming, and left those that didn’t hitting Google.com.
Recent developments in Hip-Hop, the emergence of Kanye West and a seemingly growing appreciation from the mainstream of potent lyrics, have Kweli poised to transcend his status as superb Emcee, to full fledged superstar. Birth from the fertile, and sometimes divisive mid-90’s underground, Kweli has become an Emcee that will destroy our understanding of what underground and mainstream are suppose to mean. When the dust settles and all the labels, categories, adjectives and genres are gone, there will only be the music, and that’s exactly the way Kweli wants it.
AllHipHop.com: What’s the biggest difference between Talib Kweli of 1998 and Talib Kweli of 2004?
Kweli: The two biggest differences are experience and resources. I have way more experience and I have way more resources available to me, and that of course, changes how you view the world.
AllHipHop.com: Do you feel that anticipation of greatness on the eve of your sophomore album, The Beautiful Struggle? Do you have a feeling like this one is going out of the park?
Kweli: Ummm, yeah, yeah. Ummm, out the park I don’t know, but I do feel changes around me as simple as more people recognizing me. I know something’s going to happen, I can’t call exactly what it’s going to be. My success has never been related to records sales, but I have been successful. So even if it doesn’t sell out of the park, I do sense something successful happening with this album.
AllHipHop.com: I know that you are very calculated; did you consider any other titles for the album to sum up this opus?
Kweli: Umm, the title is something that Mos Def has said around me many times and I’m sure I kicked around some other titles but I can’t remember what they are. Me and my manager, Corey, we don’t always agree with everything, especially titles and stuff, but when I said that to him, he said ,‘that’s perfect.’ So we just stuck with it.
AllHipHop.com: Did you consider changing the title after the leak, or did the leak make the title more relevant?
Kweli: Yeah, the leak made the title more relevant. Before the leak, I finished the album in three to four months, so the album wasn’t necessarily a struggle to make even though it was about struggle. Once the leak happened, the album then became a struggle to make - as far as having to get the mixtape s**t out, having to deal with the leak situation, and having to deal with the record label falling back on what I thought was its support of the record.
AllHipHop.com: Because you are such a deeply personal Emcee, would it be correct to say that your lyrics are directly related to your growth outside of music?
Kweli: Yeah, I would say I strive for that. I haven’t always been that but I’ve always ran towards that?
AllHipHop.com: With that said, are there any verses in you catalog that you don’t necessarily agree with or even subscribe to anymore?
Kweli: Sometimes. A question I use to get all the time was, “Does “The Manifesto” still apply to your life?” That’s a song that I probably would have written differently in 04’ than I did in 98’. I would have made it more clear that the ten point program I said in the song was for me, and not for Emcees in general. The stance I’ve taken since then is, while I am going to speak about the state of Hip-Hop and how upset I am about it, I am going to do it strictly from a personal perspective. Any other way, I feel, just isn’t any fun to listen to.
AllHipHop.com: You’ve said that a true fan of the music likes anything that’s dope and doesn’t really get caught up in the labels of underground, gangsta, blah, blah. At one time did you ever get caught up in the labels?
Kweli: Oh definitely, the reasons I’ve strongly said those statements in the press, is because I’ve found myself falling victim to that stuff the press creates. I came out of a tight knit independent scene and there were a lot of people in the commercial world who just weren’t around that scene, so they were always viewed with suspicion whether they were being suspicious or not, and vise versa. I found myself appreciating artists, but not realizing that those artist appreciated me. Ultimately ,I just had to get out of that.
AllHipHop.com: This leads us into the next question. On one of Jay-Z’s most personal songs, and on what is said to be his last album, he big upped you. Were you surprised to hear that?
Kweli: Yeah, I was surprised. Ya know a lot of journalists have asked me that question, but you’re the first one that mentioned the fact that he mentioned my name on a personal song. His lyrics were intensely personal on that song, and that’s the thing that surprised me more than anything. Jay-Z is an Emcee that just never ceases to amaze me. I met him a couple of times, and had kicked it with him a couple of times before he dropped that line, and I was on the Sprite Tour with him. Even though I had gone through all that, you don’t really think that you are making someone like Jay-Z’s radar. He picked and choose the people he talked about on that album, ya know he mentioned Common and [Kool] G Rap. I think it was very strategic. It helped me out a lot. It helped me out a great deal and the first time I saw him after I heard it, I told him, “Ya know, you saying that s**t, made a little difference for me and it helped me out a lot.” And he was like, “Yeah, that was my intention.” Everything with him is so calculated.
AllHipHop.com: Do you want Jay-Z type fame?
Kweli: I don’t wish for Jay-Z type fame, but I do wish for Jay-Z type freedom and Jay-Z type money. But no, I don’t wish for that level of fame because it seems annoying, of course I realize that comes with what I do. I really appreciate that I can still travel the world and meet people like Jay-Z, and still live in Brooklyn, and be around regular folks. It’s a little different now than it’s been in my life before. When I walk down the street, more people come up to me than I’m used to, but it’s not in anyway annoying.
AllHipHop.com: Now to The Beautiful Struggle, what can we expect?
Kweli: I’ve got Hi-Tek, Kanye, Dave West, Charlamane, The Neptunes, Just Blaze, Organized Noise, Midi Mafia, just a whole bunch of very talented producers. The guests on the album are John Legend, Common, Mary J. Blige, Anthony Hamilton, Faith Evans, Jean Grae. You know I always try to work with people that there is a mutual respect for, and that are just as excited to work with me, as I am to work with them.
AllHipHop.com: On the Kwelity album, specifically in the song “The Proud,” you addressed some seemingly sensitive topics when, in the mainstream of things, it was so politically correct to address them. What topics will you touch on in this album?
Kweli: That song was very much a critique of society, and this album is a critique of society in general but it’s not as [pointed] as “The Proud.” It’s more personal, like I got the song “Around My Way” with John Legend on it which is just inspired by walking down the street and peeping s**t out. This album has a more similar theme throughout than Kwelity did. Every song is about struggle, and at first that may seem kind of daunting, kind of depressing that you have a whole album and it’s about how much people are struggling. But it’s uplifting, it’s rebel music, the music sounds so good that you feel good while you thinking about the struggle. It’s inspiration comes from artists like Bob Marley who stuck to making rebel music or struggle music but it just felt so good that you couldn’t help but be filled with love and want to smile when you heard it.
AllHipHop.com: In a recent magazine article about you, you said that, “It use to be that whatever I wore out the house was what I was wearing on stage.” That’s no longer the case?
Kweli: When I first came into the game in 1998, because of the overblown state of Hip-Hop and where it was at, I put no focus on appearance. It’s the idea of the artist that just wants people to focus on the music. As I’ve grown, I’ve realized that to participate in the music industry, I have to sell myself. Most of your questions are about me as a person, not because my lyrics are so personal, but because as emcees, more than any other entity in the music business, we have to sell who we are. 50 Cent has to sell his story, Eminem has to sell his story. It’s designed like that to where the music becomes secondary. So now when I do interviews, and I do photo shots, videos and all this other s**t, I realized that this stuff is to convince the world of how fly I am. God willing, the world will think I’m so fly, that they’ll want to buy my music. Whereas, when I first came into the game, that wasn’t it, it was I want people to think that my lyrics are so fly that they don’t give a f**k who I am.
AllHipHop.com: Does the album have a drop date?
Kweli: I think it’s September 23rd.
AllHipHop.com: What question haven’t you been asked that you would have liked to have been asked?
Kweli: I alluded to it earlier, and there’s really nothing that can be done about it cause these magazines have to find angles so they can sell, but I’d really like to talk more about music.