Talib Kweli: Booking Agent

On his seminal hit “Get By,” Talib Kweli rhymed that he could “paint a picture with the pen like Norman Mailer.” It’s no coincidence that the Brooklyn-born MC name-checked the 84 year-old novelist and playwright. Anybody that knows Kweli recognizes that he has surrounded himself with literature and art— including his burgeoning library in his new Studio City, California home. The love affair with books goes a bit deeper than wood grained shelves though. Ten years ago, during the genesis of Black Star and Reflection Eternal, Kweli co-owned Nkiru Bookstore in Brooklyn, at the time, the longest running Black-owned bookstore in the borough (“It’s a bar now,” says Kweli. “Maintaining a book store is hard enough, but doing it amidst a burgeoning rap career was harder.”) A decade later, when he’s not satisfying his and our Ear Drum, Kweli shares with AllHipHop.com, a few of his favorite literary things. AllHipHop.com: So many people go to your lyrics for density and guidance. You’re the reason why I started listening to Nina Simone again. Tell me about what you were reading 10 years ago versus what you’re reading now, for pleasure?Talib Kweli: Huh, that’s an interesting question. Ten years ago, I had the bookstore. So it was like anything Black, I read— I read them all. For pleasure…I don’t know. [Laughs] I was reading a lot of historical stuff 10 years ago; it was mostly History and Religious History. “Why is it that people refuse to know the history of that which they worship?” was a big question for me. So I read a lot of that.I read every rapper book from Ma$e’s [Release the Power to Change Your Life] to Ice-T’s [The Ice Opinion], Russell [Simmon’s Life & Def] to LL Cool J’s [I Make My Own Rules] to Snoop Dogg’s [Tha Doggfather]. If a rapper wrote a book, I read it.I read a lot of biographies. Miles Davis: The Autobiography [by Quincy Troupe] is my all-time favorite. I also love Marvin Gaye’s biography Divided Soul by [David Ritz]. AllHipHop.com: That book is crazy! One of my favorites too…Talib Kweli: It is crazy. I hate the fact that the dude who wrote the book [David Ritz] sued Marvin over [publishing to] “Sexual Healing.” That’s corny as hell. AllHipHop.com: It’s funny too, ‘cause he constantly reminds the reader that he had a hand in writing that song. It’s like, “we get it.” Talib Kweli: Right. He came off as kind of a d**k, but he still spent enough time with Marvin and was close enough to him to write a good book. Right now I read…Paulo Coelho is my favorite author, he wrote The Alchemist. I read a lot of his stuff; his stuff speaks directly to me. He puts out a book a year, maybe two. I read like a business traveler. [Laughs] I read the books that you see in the f**kin’ airport, all that New York Times Bestseller s**t. Rich Dad Poor Dad [by Robert T. Kiyosaki and Sharon L. Lechter], serious stuff like that. I just read this really good book called Punk Marketing [by Richard Laermer and Mark Simmons]. That’s really helping me out with decisions I’m making, as far as my career. [to someone else in the room, “it’s good, right?”] It’s about understanding changes and trends in marketing. Like they talk about how they f**ked up on Snakes on a Plane and s**t like that. AllHipHop.com: I always take pride in putting a finished book on my shelf. How often do you, as an avid reader, re-read something?Talib Kweli: I haven’t re-read much. I just bought a house in Studio City, [California]. I just bought two bookcases. I went to Borders and spent like $700 on books. A lot of the books I had read before but just wanted in my library. I’m very proud of having a library. I was sitting in there looking like, “Wow, I’m starting my library.” Some teenagers in my life came over and was like, “Yo, why the f**k you bought a bookcase? What are you doing? Why would you buy all these books?” I told them, “I’m trying to have a library.” They stood there and could not understand why I was so proud of my library. It’s adding value to the house, as far as I’m concerned. They didn’t get it.

Talib Kweli "More Or Less" Video