interview with talib kweli / "hip-hop is a follower just like any art form. it is not a leader. hip-hop is gonna be where the people are at & if the people are staking money individually then hip-hop is gonna reflect that"

exclusive feature
{Minneapolis, MN}
The Liberator Magazine 3.3. #7, 2004


Hip Hop. Is it dead or alive? A question that has been at the forefront of all that is Hip Hop over the last few years. Many people seem to think that Hip Hop is dead simply because radio and video shows died a long time ago. Fans of rap have gotten lazy minded in their searches for music, locked into what popular media outlets are saying Hip Hop is. In a day that seems dominated by either the Jiggaboo or the radical, Talib Kweli is a brother that has managed to carve out a niche and bring a new level of respect to the urban intellectual. With his artistic listening brand of Hip Hop, he has brought the culture back into the lives of a lot of people who were frustrated or just turning back to Loose Ends or Tony Toni Tone. So, if you look past the radio play or music videos, you will see a nation of dope emcees that are struggling to get their music to the people. Hip Hop itself was given a breath of life by the Black Star album, co-hosted by Talib and Mos Def. An album that made you think, it gave you some vital information through a truly mature Hip Hop listening session. While in town hosting an emcee battle, we got a chance to ask Talib a few questions.

Liberator: So the word is that you are no longer with Rawkus [Records]?

Talib Kweli: Yeah, I’m with Geffen.

Liberator: So what’s the deal with Geffen are they treating you right and do you see yourself with them for a long time?

Talib: Well at this point it doesn’t really matter what label you’re on, it really matters what you can do as an artist. The artists that the people are feeling now have nothing to do with marketing plans or what the labels want to put out, it has to do with what the people are feeling. You got people getting 5,000 spins on the radio and can’t sell a record. That has never happened before. So I don’t look at one label being better than the other I just look at it as if I gotta’ work hard.

Liberator: Are you noticing a difference between Rawkus and Geffen?

Talib: Yeah, there are positives and negatives. Rawkus was a little more personal and hands-on whereas Geffen isn’t personal at all, you know. It’s a lot more business slash corporate, but I have access to a lot more resources. But I do believe that Rawkus worked a little harder, they had more to prove so there are pros and cons, but it all comes back to me, what I can do for myself so that’s why I gotta focus on that.

Liberator: What’s up with the new album?

Talib: Well, it should be dropping in June or July.

Liberator: What’s the name of the album and who else can we expect to hear on it?

Talib: It’s called The Beautiful Struggle. You can expect to hear Faith Evans, Mary J. Blige, Anthony Hamilton, Common, and Jean Grae.

Liberator: So a few years ago I understand that you got an opportunity to perform in Cuba with the whole Black August movement. What was your impression of the Hip Hop scene?

Talib: Cuba has a great Hip Hop scene that is rooted in its own history. It was very vibrant and alive to the point where it rivals some of the best Hip Hop I have seen.

Liberator: A couple months ago Chuck Dee was in town and people asked him about the whole downloading thing. How do you feel about that?

Talib: Spreading music is great. It creates an awareness for your product, especially when you have not sold a lot of records. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for that. On the other note, I had some, or most of my album put on the internet. Someone put it on there thinking it was fly shit and that is really an asshole thing to do. It’s one thing when music comes out, and then you buy an album with my artwork, my mixes on it and you like it so much that you put it on your website and you want people to get it. I can’t really have a problem with that. But when you take something that I haven’t presented, something from the studio that’s on a CDR that has ruff mixes, something that is personal, that belongs to me, then you’re just an asshole. That has nothing to do with file sharing. That has to do with just straight being disrespectful of other peoples work. It’s like taking something that is not finished and putting it on display for people to judge and criticize. Then you have those brothers with a hustler mentality that take a package and sell your product their self. So, on every level that don’t help. However, once I present it; cool. Then do you if you feel. You like giving me your money, then cool, I appreciate it. If you feel like it and want to spread it, music is meant to be spread. Music and business don’t really go together but let me present what I want to present.

Liberator: What do you feel about Hip Hop as an entrepreneurial culture and how do you feel about its current state [Hip Hop]?

Talib: Hip Hop is a follower just like any art form. It is not a leader. Hip Hop is gonna be where the people are at and if the people are staking money individually then Hip Hop is gonna reflect that. Just like the music of the 60’s reflects the concepts the community was dealing with. So if we wanna change Hip Hop then we have to change the community. We have to make different goals important in the community then rappers will have to follow suit. So instead of being upset about what is being played on the radio... I mean radio is what it is. I don’t expect the radio or look to the radio for my representation of Hip Hop ‘cause I live Hip Hop. I think Hip Hop is in a great place, there are a lot of artists that represent the truth. I think if you do research you can go out and find them and if you’re that moved by them then you go out and expose them to other people. So I think putting your energy into that is a lot more important then concentrating on the bullshit that the radio is playing ‘cause that will just make you bitter and not want to participate.

Liberator: So what affects do you see Hip Hop having in America today and [places] abroad?

Talib: Hip Hop is the last folk music. Hip Hop speaks to people on a very personal level, that is why people embrace it. It’s broken down a lot of class barriers and race barriers. In America it allows people to enjoy a lot of things. But not to get it confused, it is definitely black music. It’s definitely music that comes out of our culture and [music] that talks about our experiences. It’s changing, in order to deal with the youth you have to deal with Hip Hop. I did this Hip Hop thing with Russell Simmons and I sat at a table with Pimp C, Kanye West, Damon Dash, Ice Cube, you know a bunch of rappers. Then behind us it was like, Jessie Jackson, Maxine Waters, and all these other congress people that realize that they do not mean nothing to the youth unless they come through the Hip Hop artists. Therefore, Hip Hop is affecting every thing in the world around us.

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