Talib Kweli Is Excited By Pro Era, Occupying The Florida Governor’s Office And Loves Bill Murray
Talib Kweli has been one of the most outspoken advocates in hip-hop in his fifteen-plus years in the industry, from bigging up younger artists to underlining the importance of confronting racism head-on in American society. With a new album, Prisoner of Conscious, out a few months ago, new videos dropping, and an upcoming tour with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and Big K.R.I.T., Kweli's been a busy man of late—but not too busy to get involved in some of the most contentious social and legal issues of the day. He'll be heading down to Florida soon to lend a hand to the Dream Defenders organization's planned occupation of Governor Rick Scott's office hoping to initiate change in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin verdict, as well as using his position as a voice in the community to spread awareness. But that's not all—Kweli also has an anniversary coming up with Mos Def And Talib Kweli Are Black Star, his 1998 iconic album with Mos Def, celebrating its fifteenth anniversary later this month. Kweli spoke to XXL about the album, his planned work with Dream Defenders, the new wave of Brooklyn hip-hop spearheaded by Joey Bada$$ and Pro Era and why he wants to be more like Bill Murray. —Dan Rys (@danrys)
On Occupying Florida Governor Rick Scott's Office
"You should follow Dream Defenders, they can explain more in-depth what they're doing. But there's a bunch of students who got together after the Trayvon Martin trial started, and after it ended they ramped up. They're trying to repeal 'Stand Your Ground' laws, they're trying to create a new law called Trayvon's Law that they're trying to enact. And what they're essentially doing is occupying the Governor's office until their voice is heard. I think what they're doing is noble and very proactive; I like that they're not demonstrating, they're not protesting, they're just trying to create action. And I think to be young people and to make that statement, I think that's something that a lot of young people can look at and relate to. A lot of people look at the old vanguard of Civil Rights protests as something that's outdated and something that doesn't really work and is ineffective. These guys, they've already got a few things accomplished, and I'm trying to help them accomplish everything.
"The first thing that needs to happen in my opinion is there needs to be a push for a Civil Rights trial. I saw the Attorney General pushing for that. I think if that happens soon, if it can be proven in court that he violated this young man's civil rights and that led to this young man being murdered, I think that would be significant. Other than that, I think organizations like Dream Defenders have the right idea. You create voting blocks, and you move in unison to establish something, and it has to be the young people and the students on the front line doing it. And that's why I'm supporting them."
On Joey Bada$$ And Pro Era
"I'm excited by [Pro Era]. Those kids seem to be directly inspired, not by what's going on in hip-hop now, but they're inspired by the hip-hop of their parents. The same way my generation was inspired by the blaxploitation era. I was born in '75, so a lot of the hip-hop artists my age on the East Coast, we took on that pimp, player music persona; the West Coast it was like George Clinton, Parliament-Funkadelic samples—for the kids that were born in the '70s, that's what was hot in the '90s, because that's what our parents were listening to. These kids, their parents were listening to Wu-Tang, Black Moon, Nas, Mobb Deep—hardcore East Coast hip-hop. So what you're hearing is a teenager or a 21-year-old version of that, paying tribute to what their parents are listening to. A lot of it, especially because they're from Brooklyn, sounds like Boot Camp to me, but Boot Camp 2.0, redone. It's fresher because the styles are newer and fresher.
"What I like about Pro Era—not just Joey Bada$$, but I'm not as familiar with the other rappers as I am with Joey—but when I hear the tapes, even though Joey Bada$$' voice at this point stands out to me, when I hear the whole crew rap, they're not just like, 'I got coke. I got guns. And I'm this.' They're like, 'Yo, I'm telling you how I feel about the world, how I feel about these fucking police, how I feel about living in Brooklyn.' I'm giving you facts about the hood, but I'm also telling you how I feel about it. It's not just bragging about who I am or creating some sort of caricature of who I want to be. And it's not conscious rap, but it's not unconscious; it's very aware of what's going on around them."
On What Is Important For Young Artists Today
"It's important to be mindful of whose responsibility it is for your music to come out. I come from a generation where that responsibility, especially on the East Coast, we left that in the hands of managers and labels. Not 'til I went to the West Coast and other parts of the country that didn't have the music business the same way that New York did that I saw the independent hustle spirit employed into music. And now online, you gotta have that, 'cause there ain't no labels taking no gambles anymore. And the only ones with the deals are the ones with the 20 million YouTube views already. If you ain't doin' that already, why am I even talking to you right now? I think it's important that younger artists always pay attention to the containers. But shit, they don't gotta tell me that 'cause as a younger artist they drive that. Younger artists create new containers that the industry eventually catches up with."
On Stepping Back From Social Media
"I kinda feel like I've graduated a bit from [Twitter]. I've been on Twitter heavy for about four or five years, and I'm at the point where I'm not gonna do something emotional like delete my page, but I'm not going to give as much of myself to social networking. I did it as sort of an experiment to promote Prisoner of Conscious, to be a part of this landscape so that people were aware of this music I'm making. But now I'm exploring new ways to do that—just doing that with the music and bringing those people to me rather than me getting on Twitter with a bullhorn like, 'Hey! I got something new out!' Where they gotta come directly to me. Because I'm blessed. I'm blessed to have this whole career. I have a fan base, and I can utilize that fan base to spread the word for me. I'm not a new artist, I don't have to be on Twitter broadcasting everything I do.
"At this point I look to other people like Bill Murray. We all respect Bill Murray, everybody loves Bill Murray. He don't even got a cell phone. Kanye don't got no cell phone. Mos Def don't be on Twitter. Dave Chappelle don't be on Twitter. I look at people who are icons in our culture, people who are far removed from me and people that are close to me. They're more famous than me, and that accounts for it, but I feel like at this point my work speaks for itself. I enjoy Twitter, I enjoy the dialogue with the fans, but I plan on controlling that dialogue through shows or my website, rather than having to be on whatever the newest, hottest social network is. I'm on Twitter right now every day, and I will be on my Twitter and Instagram, I got more music to promote, but I'm pulling away from that right now."
On The 15th Anniversary of Black Star
"Yeah, I didn't realize that. It's like a family member. It's something that's been in my life, it's helped me out with a bunch of things, and it's great. It's a great thing to be a part of. It sort of snuck up on me—there always seems to be some sort of anniversary around that album. The whole [making] of it was great—getting to work with Common, getting to travel, working at Funky Slice. It was a great experience. I think [it holds up] pretty fucking good."