Ever since emerging as a member of Black Star in the late 1990s, Talib Kweli is one of the few artists making commercially viable music that matters. The Brooklyn bred rapper’s hard-hitting music has been able to educate and entertain simultaneously. So it is no wonder that at the peak of their fame, both Jay-Z and 50 Cent named Talib Kweli as one of their favourite rappers.
Throughout the new Ear Drum release, Talib Kweli makes a point to explore new topics, collaborate with a variety of artists and rap over distinctively innovative production. It is part of his growth as an artist and as a person.
How have you been?
Talib Kweli: Yeah, not bad. I’ve just been working on my album and doing promotion for that.
Tell me about the new album.
Talib Kweli: I’ve written about all different types of things for this album. All of the songs on the CD are my favourite! When an artist puts out an album I think every song is their favourite. It’s hard for me to describe music; I want everybody to hear it so they can understand where I’m coming from.
Who did you work with?
Talib Kweli: I worked with Kanye West, Hi-Tek, Jus Blaze, UGK, Norah Jones and Musiq Soulchild. It was my manager’s idea to get Norah Jones on the record. She was very gracious and did her thing very well.
Is there anything you wouldn’t write about?
Talib Kweli: I probably wouldn’t write a song dissing another rapper. There’s nothing wrong with it, I just wouldn’t do it. I think it’s overdone but at the same time, I can always appreciate a diss record.
Who are your main influences?
Talib Kweli: My parents and music in general. I listen to all different types of music. If it’s good then I’ll listen to it. My parents played a lot of music around the house when I was growing up. My father was a teacher and wasn’t in the music business but he had a lot of records. People who are really into music can’t just name one or two people they like to listen to. There are hundreds of thousands of hours of music to listen to.
Are ear drums the most important part of the body?
Talib Kweli: No, not by far! But I do think that music is an important resource and I think music is important for living life and healing. I called the album Ear Drum because that’s how people are going to connect to my songs.
Do you make it a point not to be violent in your music?
Talib Kweli: I make it a point to be very aggressive but not violent. My music is extremely aggressive. I don’t think you have to talk about violence to be aggressive. My music is not soft. It’s hard beats and hard lyrical content, which deals with hard subjects. I don’t glorify violence but I certainly deal with it.
What do you think about the fact that hip hop is still being blamed for violence?
Talib Kweli: I think that’s the dumbest s**t in the world! I can’t even talk about that it’s just too much.
How important is it to portray a meaningful message in your songs?
Talib Kweli: It’s important but not all the time. It would be a s**ty world if every song had a meaningful message behind it. Sometimes it’s good to just smile and entertain.
What’s your favourite club track that you’ve made?
Talib Kweli: Either Say Something or Waiting For The DJ.
What are the disadvantages of being in the music business?
Talib Kweli: You develop addictive habits like smoking and drinking and you spend no time with your family. You spend a lot of time on the road and you develop a reality that’s different to everybody else’s for example the money you spend and what you spend it on. There are people who are more settled and your reality is different from theirs, which can make it difficult to relate to people.
Do you ever wish you weren’t in the music business for those reasons?
Talib Kweli: Yeah, at times I get very frustrated but I never wish that I didn’t make music. I just started a label so I can’t have those thoughts no more, I gotta be responsible. My family are very supportive on all levels of what I do which is important to me even though I don’t get to see them as much as I’d like.
Have you seen any of your family members this week?
Talib Kweli: I saw my girl and my kids. My children are 10 and 8. I see them as often as I can and we miss each other. Music keeps me on the road. I can’t have hits or make money without travelling or being seen by people. This is how I support my kids. I don’t see them as often as someone working a 9 to 5 but I see them way more often than the average entertainer.
Do you ever take your family with you when you’re travelling?
Talib Kweli: Yes and it’s great having my kids travel with me. Travelling is the best way you can learn. You will learn more travelling the world in one summer than you will in five years of classical education. My kids are way advanced because they have been able to travel to many parts of the world.
Famous people are always having trouble with their money. Do you?
Talib Kweli: I have my vices like any man. I’m blessed that I do what I love for a living and the harder I work the more money I make. If there’s something I need, I go out and make the money to get it. It’s a hustler’s mentality which you gotta have.
Have you ever had a problem with addiction?
Talib Kweli: I have the same addictions as anyone else who works for a living. You always strive to be better. A lot of people have functional addictions they have when they work stressful jobs.
Do you ever feel like just giving up?
Talib Kweli: Sometimes it gets overwhelming. When you do what you love for a living, people have a misconception that everything’s all fun and games all the time. What they don’t realise is in order to do what you love you have to work ten times harder than anyone else. You have to have people around you who are passionate about your vision and can make it pop.