On Thursday, April 22, Talib Kweli performed at the Michigan State University Union Ballroom. Kweli, mostly known for his work with Mos Def and last year’s Kanye West-produced hit single “Get By,” is one of the most respected artists in the hip-hop industry. William Ketchum III of the Big Green (and RapReviews.com) hooked up with Kweli before the show to talk about online bootlegging, the new album, and gaining mainstream appeal.
William Ketchum III So, what all has been going on with you?
Talib Kweli: Chillin’.
WK3: This show is to promote your upcoming album, The Beautiful Struggle. Tell me about the album—who can we expect to see guest appear on it, who’s producing on it, when it’s coming out, that sort of thing.
TK: I don’t know when it’s coming out, it’s coming out when it’s [in it’s best] interest for it. Producing on it is Hi-Tek, Organized Noise, Charlemagne, Many Mafia, Dave West, Kanye West. Featuring Common, Jean Grae, maybe MF Doom, Anthony Hamilton, Faith Evans, Mary J. Blige, that’s about it.
WK3: The album, The Beautiful Struggle, was heavily bootlegged on the Internet. While many people have already seen your post on the OkayPlayer message board, what are your views on online music sharing?
TK: I think music sharing of any kind is great. But I think, (pauses and points at a painting on the wall) if you want to take this picture down, when it’s half-done, and grab it, and be like ‘ooh, I gotta copy the picture, and put it up for people to judge and critique,’ that’s not fair to an artist. Let me finish my music, and let me present it the way I want to present it. And then share it, put it online, do whatever you want to do after that. But it becomes disrespectful when the artist’s process is not respected.
WK3: To combat the bootlegging that went on with your album, you just released The Beautiful Mix CD. Tell me about that, and how much of an indication that can be for those anticipating the album.
TK: Well I did the mixtape before they bootlegged [the album], before the downloading and everything happened. This is just something I wanted to do; I’m from New York City, and New York City underground culture is mixtapes. It’s street-style mixtape. I listened to a mind joint, and I wanted to do my own version of it, and what you hear on my mixtape is my take on what the whole CD sounds like. I’ve got Free from “106 & Park,” and she’s rapping on it, singing on it. Dave Chappelle is hosting it. Styles P, Fabolous, Busta Rhymes, The Game, Kanye West, Common, Consequence, Black Thought, Sean Penn who used to be “Lil’ Sean,” my Strong Arm Steady niggas is on there with me.
WK3: So are Fabolous and Styles P on the actual album?
TK: No, nothing on the mixtape is from the album.
WK3: You’ve worked with some of the best hip-hop artists of our time: Mos Def, Common, DJ Quik, etc. Who would you like to work with in the future?
TK: Hmm (pauses). I’d like to work with Outkast, I’d like to work with RZA, I’d like to work with Timbaland, York, a whole bunch of people.
WK3: So who else are you feeling right now? Who did you look up to in the industry growing up?
TK: Ghostface, dead prez, N.E.R.D., the Madvillan album (pauses), and Usher.
WK3: Your label, Rawkus, recently went out of business. How important was Rawkus to your career, and how do you feel about it’s recent closing?
TK: Rawkus isn’t closed, they just lost their deal with Geffen. But Rawkus is integral to what I do, because the cats who started Rawkus are the first ones who really saw my vision, and gave me a platform to get it out there, so I’m definitely totally grateful for that.
WK3: And how much do you know about the fate of all the artists that were left hanging in the Rawkus deal? Do you know where fan favorites like you, Mos, and Pharaohe Monch will be headed?
TK: I’ve heard Pharaohe’s going to Shady, but I don’t know. I don’t know what Mos is doing.
WK3: You’ve garnered a reputation among hip-hop fans, and even Jay-Z name-dropped you on his latest album. However, a lot of artists with underground roots meet the fate of making overly-jiggy singles and losing their old fans. Is mainstream appeal important to you? And after that, how do you plan to achieve it on a larger level?
TK: I mean, I do this to get heard. I started rapping because I wanted people to hear what I have to say, I want as many people to hear me as possible, and I do everything in my power to make that pop. You know, sort of selling myself, selling my soul. It’s very important to be successful; I’ve got a family to raise. But the first reason I got into this is because I love it. And you know, art as commerce, doesn’t really make too much sense, they don’t go together. It’s an unfortunate situation that the world has placed us in. (pauses) I mean, it can be fortunate and unfortunate. Fortunately, artists can live off their works, if you’re creative at how you do it. If you just depend on the videos and the radio, you’re at a loss. But you have to be creative on how you sell yourself and market yourself.
WK3: Your partner, Mos Def, has been featured in films, music videos, and even on Broadway. Does Talib have a future on the silver screen?
TK: Um, why, were going to holla at me with an agent or something (laughing)?
WK3: (laughing) Oh no, I was just curious.
TK: Well if somebody’s giving me a script, I’ll consider it. But it’s not something I’m chasing.
WK3: Your album with Hi-Tek, Reflection Eternal, got rave reviews. However, Hi-Tek was nowhere to be found on your last album, Quality. Why was this the case? And does he produce any work on The Beautiful Struggle?
TK: Hi-Tek is on three or four songs on the new record. I think that Hi-Tek was burned out, with the whole “Mos Def and Talib Kweli” thing when I worked on that record, and he wanted to establish himself as Hi-Tek, not just as “oh, that’s that producer who produced with Mos Def and Kweli.” He went out there and did some important things with Snoop, and Dre, G-Unit, and he wanted to get his name out.
WK3: Your Black Star album with Mos Def is widely considered to be one of the best hip-hop albums of all time. Though both of you have been busy—Mos with his acting, and you with your recording—can fans expect another Black Star album?
TK: Yeah definitely, but it’ll be not because the fans want it, but because the time is right. People consider Black Star a great album, and I think it’s a classic album. But the fact is, both me and Mos Def have made better albums since Black Star. I just think we have more experiences and more resources, so when we get together, it’ll be because the time is right.
WK3: Recently, the Kanye West explosion has been said to be a key component in closing the gap between commercial rap and conscious hip-hop. What do you think about these assertions, and what’s your take on the music industry right now, specifically the rap game?
TK: I think the fans, and the music lovers, and musicians, they’ve always been on that page. That’s why you hear Jay-Z mention me on his album, or why it ain’t no thing to the fans or to the musicians. The industry doesn’t realize it, and they need to box shit up because they aren’t creative when it comes to selling shit. I think it makes it easier for program directors, who couldn’t figure out what box to place a certain artist in. When they play the Kanye record, he’s not just talking about gangsta shit, so it makes it easier for them to make decisions on what they can play. A lot of these people, these program directors, just like anybody else in the world, even though they’re supposed to be leaders in the world, they’re followers. They follow what they think someone else is doing, instead of trying to blaze a trail.
WK3: Okay, here’s the deal. I’ll say a name, you say what comes to mind.
WK3: New York Yankees.
TK: The Best.
WK3: Kobe Bryant.
TK: (laughs) Silly.
WK3: Michael Jackson.
WK3: Janet Jackson.
TK: (laughs) Jermaine Dupri.
TK: Pretty fuckin, Eminem’s pretty fuckin ill.
WK3: Donald Trump.
WK3: George Bush.
TK: You killed my daddy.
WK3: Okay, that’s about it. Is there anything I missed, or anything you’d like to say to all of the readers out there?