When it comes to the flow, lyrics and tone within hip hop, there are few who do it better than Talib Kweli. Ever since his rise in the late 90’s, Kweli has become one of the top rappers in the new millennium. He has a way of making music that honors his predecessors while also keeping things fresh for new audiences. He also provides a fun time when he performs live. Tomorrow night, he’ll be doing just that when he takes the stage at Paddy’s Beach Club in Westerly.
Kweli and I had a talk about a new website he has, the division within America, the roots of gun violence, his love for hip hop and a bunch of things he has going on for later in the year.
Rob Duguay: You started this website called the #KweliClub that’s a marketplace of books, films, music, apparel and art that’s mostly yours. It’s also a way for you to connect with your fans via members being able to email you directly. What inspired the concept for this?
Talib Kweli: Ryan Leslie is a musician and a singer-songwriter who has worked with Kanye and other people, he’s had a couple hit records. He’s a fantastic artist, just a Harvard educated and all-around intelligent guy. He’s the one who came to me with the idea of doing this website, he did a similar one for himself at RyanLeslie.com. I didn’t really know him that well before he came to me with this, he sort of chased me down because he felt that I was the type of artist who needed something and it worked very well for him. Before he came to me with it, I saw that a few comedians had done something similar but I couldn’t figure out how to do it with music and Ryan came to me out of the clear blue with a way to do it.
RD: It’s a unique and engaging setup you have. You’re also active on social media, especially on Twitter. Social media can be a horrible place with the amount of trolling and cyberbullying that happens. What’s your opinion on that and what do you think are the right counteractions to take?
TK: It depends on your personality and your lifestyle. I grew up in Brooklyn with parents who were educators and activists while being able to rap with words. Being good with words is sort of my thing and Twitter is something that lends itself to that. I enjoy having dialogue with people and I enjoy the back and forth, I really do. I wouldn’t be spending much time there if I didn’t enjoy it, but not everyone is built for that.
I enjoy the back and forth, even if it gets negative, because I have a degree of positivity in what I’m trying to do that I can combat negativity. Sometimes people criticize the amount of time I spend on Twitter and I see why people don’t understand it but what I don’t understand is how we can live most of our lives online at this point. We have Uber, Lyft, Grubhub, Amazon Prime and all these things. We’re buying tickets from Travelocity to go places, we’re doing everything online. When it comes to facing down hatred or bigotry, it’s organized to destabilize and impact our political conversation and ultimately our lifestyle.
Then you have people saying, “Well, ignore that because it’s not real.” I don’t see any way that I can ignore that, I’m not the kind of person who can sit there and ignore a lie. Nelson Mandela is one of my heroes and one thing he said, which I try to live my life by, is “Fools multiply when wise men are silent” and I don’t think he’s wrong about that. When you have the information and you see someone telling a lie, especially one that’s bigoted and racist, you have a moral obligation to say “No, that’s not true.”
RD: You’ve also never been afraid to talk about political and social issues. As you know, the United States is very divided these days with police brutality and gun violence being a big part of it. What do you think is the start in the right direction for a solution?
TK: We have to be honest about who we are and what our history is. The United States has a unique past with gun violence. Yes, people all over the world use guns but nobody’s history is as tied to the gun in the same way as the United States’ is. Some people want to blame video games or mental illness but these two things are all over the world. Not every place has mass shootings while we have hundreds of them that happen every year now.
In 220 days this year, we’ve had over 250 mass shootings and the country that comes closest to us has three. How are we not examining that? How are we not being honest about that? There are some people who are using the gun issue to enable white supremacy, enable the fascist state and to enable the idea that the federal government shouldn’t be able to regulate anything. That idea that the government should step out of the way and let people do whatever they want comes from Confederate principles.
It comes from the idea that the federal government was forcing Confederate states to not have slaves. The reason why the GOP is talking about socialism right now and railing against it is became they want the government to interfere when it comes to women’s bodies, they want the government to interfere when it comes to the police disproportionately arresting and abusing black people but when it comes to guns and the right to be racist they don’t want the government to interfere at all. It’s a very confusing argument for a lot of people but I think a lot of people can see how it all ties in.
RD: There’s so many variables to be examined as well when it comes to these shootings, gun violence and police brutality. Seeing the whole gamut of it can be a bit overwhelming too. Your music has always had an old school hip hop vibe to it and you’ve mentioned acts like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest as heavy influences. Do you view yourself these days as a torchbearer for hip hop in an age where overcommercialization and mumble rap are rampant? How do you feel about the state of hip hop these days?
TK: I think the state of hip hop these days is wonderful. It was wonderful when I started out and it’s wonderful now. I’m proud to be associated with those artists that you named, the De La Souls, the Tribe Called Quests and the Native Tongues. I grew up with those artists and the fact that the artists I grew up with have become the artists I’m associated with means that I’m doing my job well. There’s also an influence from artists that my generation has had like Common and The Roots and even into today with J. Cole and Chance The Rapper.
I love what’s going on in hip hop. Are there things that I don’t like about it today? Sure. There were also things I didn’t like about it when I was coming up, which is why I rapped about it. It’s easy to talk about what we don’t like but I’m very much happy with hip hop. There’s always something new coming out that I haven’t heard, whether it’s from a new group, a new singer, a new style or something else.
Everyday that happens to me. I live a hip hop lifestyle, so I surround myself and actively work towards hearing new music. Most people just tune into the radio and turn on the TV or whatever and it’s usually in the background. They’re just hearing what they want to hear and already know, they hear what society is marketing to them. Then that’s all they’re doing, then they’re going to complain about the state of hip hop because they think it’s all about trap music and clubbin’ and stuff like that, you have to do the work to find the good, new music.
RD: You have to look for it.
RD: It goes for all genres, especially with the internet and you can search for anything on Spotify these days.
TK: There’s so much good hip hop out there. I get overwhelmed by it sometimes, everyday I hear something new. I’ll listen to different playlists or check out a new artist and I’ll be immediately impressed.
RD: It’s an awesome thing. After this summer ends, what do you have in store for the rest of the year? Do you have a new album in the works? I’ve seen that you have a new YouTube channel.
TK: I have a lot of things going on. Yasiin Bey and I are working on a new Black Star album, I have my podcast which is called “The People’s Party” and on that Youtube channel you mentioned I have a TV show that I just launched called “Vibrate Higher.” That’s definitely where my focus is right now.