A Quick Catch-Up With: Talib Kweli
We last spoke to Talib Kweli a little over a year ago, just before the release of his fourth solo album, 'Gutter Rainbows'. During the UK leg of his tour, The Wrap Up sent James Walsh to speak with the legendary rapper about the secret to his longevity, his new album, 'Prisoner Of Conscious', his love for performing in the UK and his, erm, exciting plans for the rest of 2012...
The Wrap Up: Talib, thanks for taking the time to speak with us today. You've been on your European tour, so what countries have you been to and how is all going?
Talib Kweli: I've hit Norway, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Paris. It’s been great! I rocked with everyone from Souls Of Mischief to Nice And Smooth, to Pusha T and RZA. Good times.
TWU: Your last album, 'Gutter Rainbows', was released through your label, JAVOTTI Media, with 3D Distribution. What's the set-up there? Does it enable you to have full creative control of the music that you want to put out? I'm thinking of Lupe Fiasco here, who – despite the success of ‘Lasers’ – has publicly come out and said that he didn't actually want to release it…
Talib Kweli: 3D Distribution, while started by the founders of Duck Down, is a completely separate company. Working with those guys was a great experience, they taught me a lot. All my albums, besides 'Liberation' and 'Right About Now', had been released with a major label component up until then. But the work is always sourced out to independents, so now I cut the majors out. If I need a loan, I will go to the bank.
TWU: You also run the Blacksmith Music record label with Corey Smyth, which has some great artists on there like Jean Grae and Idle Warship. Can you tell us a bit about it? How active are you in the running of it and was it always the case that you wanted to own your own label?
Talib Kweli: I started the label Blacksmith Music, and ran it, but I recently stepped down as CEO. So, I can’t really speak on the future. I am, however, very excited about Jean Grae's album. Res and I released 'Habits Of The Heart' on Blacksmith, but I’m not sure where we will be next.
TWU: What do you believe is the key to longevity in the industry and sustaining success?
Talib Kweli: Honesty, humility, hard work and paying attention to the entire culture, not just the music that speaks to you.
TWU: Do you feel that rappers are able to see the levels of mainstream success like Jay-Z has while having a heavily conscious lyrical content to their songs?
Talib Kweli: Ever heard of Outkast, Lauryn Hill? And Kanye West is, or can be at times, an extremely conscious artist. Jay-Z, too. Even Nicki Minaj has released songs as singles that empower young women.
TWU: Based on the origins of hip-hop, do you feel rappers have an obligation to speak on social and political topics to educate those that listen to them that may otherwise be ignorant of what's going on in the world?
Talib Kweli: Any human being with knowledge has an obligation to spread that knowledge, but it’s wrong to try and hold people responsible for things they don’t know. As a human being, my job is to spread knowledge. That is not my job as an artist. The artist has one job, and that is to be honest. If all artists were expected to be positive all the time, art would be no fun.
TWU: 'Prisoner Of Conscious' is the title of your new album – an interesting one, at that. Tell us about the meaning behind the title…
Talib Kweli: 'Prisoner Of Conscious' speaks on my experience. I am not a prisoner of it, but people try to make me one sometimes. I have to be fluid. It’s a gift and a curse. Being labelled as conscious artist is one of the highest honours that someone can bestow on me. But it also creates limitations, and possibly distances me from people who may really need to hear what I have to say. A true artist, by nature, cannot be defined or confined to a box or genre.
TWU: What can we expect from 'Prisoner Of Conscious'? What featured artists, producers and vibe/sound can we expect?
Talib Kweli: I’m having fun on this album. Features include Miguel, Rubix, Mos Def, Kendrick Lamar, Busta Rhymes, Melanie Fiona, Curren$y, Seu Jorge…I’ve said too much! (Laughs)
TWU: What do you hope your fans and listeners of the new album take away from it?
Talib Kweli: I hope they buy it, come to the shows, and sing along.
TWU: You're performing in Manchester tonight, right? What is it like performing in the UK and how does a British crowd compare to anywhere else in the world?
Talib Kweli: I love performing in the UK. They love music and they show it at the venue. They also get a lot of performers coming through, so they are particular and nuanced.
TWU: Cool. Finally, what else do you have planned for 2012?
Talib Kweli: Nothing. The Mayans said that the world is ending, so I'm riding it out!
Stay up to date with Talib Kweli on Twitter - www.twitter.com/TalibKweli
Words: James Walsh (@JW_DittoMusic)
Online editing: Joseph 'JP' Patterson (@Jpizzledizzle)