Talib Kweli: Listen Up Part 2

AllHipHop.com: You put a lot of Hip-Hop fans on to Nina Simone, how did you react to her passing? Talib Kweli: I mean, Nina Simone’s passing was tragic, of course, but you celebrate somebody’s life. I was just blessed to have had a chance to meet her; an opportunity to meet her family—she’s been really […]

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AllHipHop.com: You put a lot of Hip-Hop fans on to Nina Simone, how did you react to her passing?

Talib Kweli: I mean, Nina Simone’s passing was tragic, of course, but you celebrate somebody’s life. I was just blessed to have had a chance to meet her; an opportunity to meet her family—she’s been really my spiritual guide through music. We did the cover of “For Women” on the Reflection Eternal project; and that was a big record for me. That record got me familiar with a lot of fans. Of course, it’s her “Sinnerman” that we sampled for “Get By.” You know, she’s just been involved in every aspect of my career.

AllHipHop.com: It’s almost like a blessing in disguise for “Get By” – that’s your most successful record…

Talib Kweli: Yeah, her music and who she is as an artist has been surrounding me ever since I started the music.

AllHipHop.com: When you did that tribute song to Lauryn, “Ms. Hill”, did she ever hear it and respond to it?

Talib Kweli: Yeah, Lauryn heard the record, put it up on her MySpace page as her official song, wrote a blog about how she enjoyed the record.

AllHipHop.com: How did everything work out with WMG (Warner Music Group) and makin’ that happen with Blacksmith? Why did you decide that was a good home for Blacksmith?

Talib Kweli: We had a lot of options and a lot of opportunities to do different things, me and Corey, but Warner and Tom Wally, especially, made us feel comfortable and let us know that we could do what we wanted to do creatively. They’re very honest with us about the money we’re dealing with; we’re not dealing with a whole bunch of over-blown budgets. We’re dealing with the bear necessities and just to bring the music and focus on the music and they understood that I wanted to do it with Jean Grae and Strong Arm Steady. I don’t know if they understand those groups as they are, I don’t know if they understand those acts yet, but if I put my stamp on it—then it must be something they can work with. So, you know, it’s just a matter of having that freedom.

AllHipHop.com: Were you surprised by the faith that they had in you, to go ahead and give you that deal?

Talib Kweli: No, I wasn’t surprised, I was pretty confident that we would get a deal; and it’s just a matter of who’s gonna give us the right deal—have the right numbers with the right situation, and Warner stepped up to the plate.

AllHipHop.com: For Jean Grae’s project, what do you see Blacksmith doing for her in areas where Babygrande and Third Earth Records have failed?

Talib Kweli: We just came from HOT97 and DJ Enuff said that, “I’ve heard a lot about Jean Grae, but no one that has come up to me has said, ‘Here’s a Jean Grae record.’” And that’s what Blacksmith is able to do; we’re able to forge those relationships. The only thing that people don’t know, and the only way that people sleep on Jean Grae is if they’ve never heard of it—ain’t no way you could have heard her and be sleepin’ on her. So you just need to be presented with the music, and that’s what we’re trying to do.

AllHipHop.com: Yeah, it’s all about the exposure. What’s different this time around with Ear Drum in comparison to your other albums? What’s your inspiration in going into this record?

Talib Kweli: This record I just tried to make it about the sounds and about how the sounds hit your ear. The other records I’ve done I’ve wanted to create certain types of songs, songs that I had in my head and in this one, the music on this the must sort of dictated where the songs went.

AllHipHop.com: So, it’s like an overall approach as an album, as opposed to a song-by-song basis?

Talib Kweli: Right, I approach all my albums like albums, but like the last few albums it’s like I want to do this type of song, like for quality, I want to remake the Eddie Kendricks record. I want to do a record with Black Thought and Pharoahe Monch—I gotta do a record like that. And then I wanna do record with Reese Rogers, a sing record. And for “Beautiful Struggle,” I want it planned out as a rock song. I wanna redo the Sting song [“Around My Way”]. I would like to do a record with Anthony Hamilton and I would like to do a record with Faith Evans. Those are ideas I went into the record with having. With this, I didn’t have any of those ideas; I just collected the music.

AllHipHop.com: You’ve always refuted the myth of staying genre specific and staying in your ground and you’ve always collaborated with other Hip-Hop artists that may be “commercial”. Why do you think everyone gravitates to you and has such a high respect for your music and your style?

Talib Kweli: I think because for the body of work that I put out there, my music gets respected, and its respected enough that I can come up top somebody and say, “Yo, I like your music.” And the first thing they’re gonna say is, “Let’s try something,” and I’m gonna reach out. I’m not one of these jaded artists, one of these Hollywood artists. If I have your number and respect your music, I’m not gonna pretend that I don’t f**k witchu. And I’m gonna call you and I’m gonna ask you to come down to the studio, Little Brother, they’re on their way down here right now; you know, come to the studio, let’s do something. Who know’s what we’re gonna use it for, and because of that attitude, I’ve been able to have a lot of mix tape stuff, have people on my albums and have different relationships. And early in my career, I found a large part of my audience pinning me against certain aspects of the industry like a lot of question early in my career were: “Well, do you hate Diddy?” “Don’t you hate Jay-Z?” “Don’t you hate the way Master P raps?” And I was like, “Nah, I never looked at it like that.” Throughout my career, especially with the beautiful mixtape . I went out and found Fabolous and Styles P and people like that, and I was like I need to do a song with these dudes so they see it; we’re just young, black men expressing ourselves—ain’t nothin’ that different. Fabolous may be good rappin’ for the chicks, but Styles P might be good rappin’ for the thugs; Kweli, they just look at him like conscious rapper, but we all started in the place and we all approach it with the same intentions. Why does it have to be so different? The L.O.X. had a lot to do with that. I came out around the same time the L.O.X. came out and I had such a respect for what they were doing, I saw them at a party and I’m like, “Damn, there go the L.O.X.,” but I had fallen victim to the myth that what I do is different from what they do, and they came up to me and they were like, “Yo, Kweli, we f**ks with your s**t.” And I’m like, “Damn, I f**k with your s**t too, but I never thought that you were gonna come up to me and say that.” That was when I first started, so ever since then, I’ve let that attitude go. I found myself falling a victim to the attitude to early in my career, and I had to let it go.

AllHipHop.com: Are you doing a lot of branching out and doing work with artists of other genres?

Talib Kweli: Well, you know I got this Norah Jones record, produced by Madlib. I got some other Pop artists on my record, and the records aren’t completely done and the paperwork isn’t done, so I haven’t said their names. There’s a lot of Strong Arm Steady on the record, a lot of Jean Grae on the record. I don’t care what kind of music you do, I don’t really care as long as…artists can’t be in no boxes; we can’t have limitations. I tried to heighten my whole career like that.

AllHipHop.com: Have you come together again with Hi-Tek?

Talib Kweli: Yeah, Hi-Tek’s doing a couple records on this album.

AllHipHop.com: Where does it stand with doing another BlackStar record? I know a lot of people on the streets can’t believe the lay off with that.

Talib Kweli: To be honest, the BlackStar album was a real organic process and we’d have to be living life like that again to recreate that feeling. We’re grown-ups now. I was 20 years old when we did that record and I’m 30 now, and I had a lot more time on my hands and a lot less responsibility—more free time to decide I’m going to do this project. And the point I’m at now, it just ain’t like that, and the fact of the matter is: me and Mos Def have been doing records together since the BlackStar record, but nothing has had the impact of that whole album, and it makes me think—same as Hi-Tek, Hi-Tek did three joints on the Beautiful Struggle album, a lot of people that didn’t like the album were like, he should get back with Hi-Tek, like duh. Hi-Tek’s on that record, y’all didn’t pick up on those records, so maybe y’all really don’t want to hear where me and Hi-Tek are at in 2006. Maybe where me and Mos Def are in 2006 is not the same as the BlackStar thing, so we’re not gonna do that album just for the sake of it, because everyone thinks it will be a good idea.

AllHipHop.com: It may not have the same chemistry.

Talib Kweli: Yeah, like Brand Nubian got together and no one bought it—no one paid attention. EPMD got back together, and it’s got to be done because it’s right, not just because it’s a good idea—it’s great idea. People are like, “Y’all can cake up, y’all can clean up, they’ve been waitin’ this and that…” What if we come up with a song that’s sub par? We did a song on my Right About Now album called “Supreme, Supreme;” I love that song. The BlackStar fans did not like it, what they wrote about it was like, “Ehhhh, it’s okay.” Because it will never be that album to them, no matter how good the song is—the song’s a great song—but it’s not on the original album. We did another song called “Born and Raised in Brooklyn;” we put it on the [Dave Chappelle] Block Party soundtrack and the response was lukewarm, because nothing we’re gonna do is gonna give them that feeling again. So, do they really want it? Nah, they don’t really want it.

AllHipHop.com: I interviewed ?uestlove and I was talking to him about the resurgence of the Native Tongue movement and he was like, “It will never be what it once was…everyone grows up, has kids and is on their own route. And it’s a different time, and it was good for the time.”

Talib Kweli: It is, and there’s gonna be a new BlackStar. You know what I mean? BlackStar is what it is. I would love to do another record, but I’m one man. If you asked me when the next Kweli record is, I could tell you October because I have control of when that’s coming out, but I can’t control Mos Def or Hi-Tek.

AllHipHop.com: How do you feel about Hip-Hop right now?

Talib Kweli: I think you see conscious hip hop getting attention now simply because the majority of hip hop now sounds so ignorant that you’re starting to see a backlash of it. You know, I don’t have a problem with none of the music, but when you beat over the head with anything…like when they beat over the head with conscious revolutionary rap, N.W.A. came out and it was like “F**k that, f**k the police, we smack hoes, we whatever.” Like, whenever it gets too much of something there has to be a backlash and right now you can only rap but so slow and rap about the same things over and over again before it becomes like, “Let’s hear something different.”

AllHipHop.com: Exactly. 50 Cent mentioned that about Kanye, he was like “He wouldn’t be successful if it wasn’t for me.”

Talib Kweli: Yeah, I mean I disagree with that statement, you know 50 Cent has a real Machiavelli way of looking at the world and its worked for him, so that’s a perfect 50 Cent statement for him to make, but Kanye works very hard and Kanye got to where he got because of his hard work. Kanye and 50 are the same artist with just two different poles to me. Like, whereas 50 got shot and had to come back in the game and nobody was checkin’ for him, and he had to get on the streets and sell his mixtapes until he became the number one artist because of his hustle; Kanye did the same thing a year later – except by getting in a car accident. No one was checkin’ for Kanye, he filmed his own video, put out G.O.O.D. Music mixtapes and he did it to the point where you had to pay attention to him. And it’s no coincidence that they are the biggest Hip-Hop artists because they have the same hustle, they did the same things, 50 just did it a year before Kanye.