photographer / ANNA SIAN story /KOKO NTUEN
In Arabic, Talib means seeker. And, Mr. Kweli certainly sought out a well-deserved amount of success with his music career. The son of an English professor and a university administrator, his early Park Slope life was not lacking in education. He made his debut in 1995, shaking up the rap world with his intelligent and meaningful lyrics. His 2002 hit “Get By” is an example of that. Talib has knack for incorporating politics into his music, without sounding too preachy.
With his new album, Prisoner of Conscious, he focuses more on his personal life than the world as a whole. Bridging the gap between wise lyrics and fresh beats, Talib remains a refreshing voice in the rap community.
You have always worked with amazing artists on your albums like Busta Rhymes, Curren$y, Kendrick Lamar, who would a dream collaborator be?
That’d be awesome.
Who do you collaborate with really easily?
Definitely Hi-Tek and Mos Def, of course. I’ve done a lot of great work with him. DJ Quick…a couple different people.
What is the difference between working with older and younger artists?
The artists that I work with tend to be of a certain quality, regardless of their age. I notice the similarities more than the differences, but what I do notice what’s different about younger artists is that they are maybe less informed about music history. They’re not any less talented. The music is less based on sample as it used to be. So there is less of an inclination to learn about the history.
Do you listen to jazz?
What the experience like recording Prisoner of Conscious?
It was a long and traveling experience. The album was recorded and worked on all over the world from Switzerland and Norway to Puerto Rico, where I recorded a majority of the songs, the vocals, to Brazil… New York City, L.A. I travel all the time and I’ve been recording this album for quite some time.
Do you have any flying rituals?
I used to get a lot more reading and quiet time before they put Internet on the plane. Now that they got Internet on the plane, I’m just on it all day long, being on emails. If I’m flying overseas, I make sure I have some books, movies and TV shows to keep my brain occupied, because if I’m not sleeping, I like to have my brain occupied.
What is the juxtaposition of your career and your upbringing like?
My career is a caricature of me. It’s the outside part of my personality. I think I bring to my career a lot of what I grew up on: using my own name, the subject matter, dealing with activism in my music. All of that is from how I grew up. But hip hop is very sort of “beat your chest”
aggressive, and I wasn’t raised like that. I was raised a lot more humble than hip hop is. I had to, in the world of hip hop, become more confident and arrogant, if you will, and more aggressive.
What did your parents think of your hip hop career?
My parents were always very supportive. Especially when I started coming home with vinyl and showing them I actually did it. My parents were supportive about what I did, as long as I was an individual about it and still handled my responsibilities. My mother actually listened to my album for the first time last night. She called me and she was like, “I like your album except that one song with all the cursing on it.” And I’m like, “Yeah, that’s the first single. That’s the one that I’m trying to attract people with, with all the cursing on it.”
What was it like going to boarding school in Connecticut?
It was cool; it was a great experience. But you know, I dealt with racism, severe racism, when I first got there: kids throwing stuff at us, trying to run us out of town. Then once I settled into routine, I was able to figure it out I had just came from Selma, Alabamba, where there were literally confederate flags everywhere. I drove through a town where all the churches and schools were segregated. I drove through a town that was all white. There’s this town next to Selma, because Selma has a black mayor. They had one since the year 2000, there are a lot of white people who moved out to form their own town because of it.
People like to say we live in a post-racial society. We live in the most racial society. For a long time, racism was just institutionalized. It’s
not something on the surface; it ‘s like a weight. It’s invisible, but you feel it, you know it exists. People are using religion and politics, calling people socialists and being mad at Muslims. They are using those as excuses, instead of the outright racisim like people saying, “we hate niggers.“
Do you have any embarrassing stories from trying to get girls?
I used to hang out with Santi from Santigold. That’s my homegirl from back in the day. I was trying to holler at one of her friends, and I took them to go buy some weed on when I was 18. I went to the weed spot. As soon as I got there was this ill, crazy shoot out. And we had to run in this old lady’s house and hide. It was crazy. It was the worst first date ever. I had enough money to get a nickel bag, when we walked inside. Had to dodge a shoot out.
What was the last thing that made you go “whatever!”?
I don’t know, probably some Twitter comment.