Talib Kweli made a special performance at Sonos Studio in Los Angeles last week. The set featured a run-through of the rapper's massive catalog, from Black Star to Prisoner of Conscious, his new solo album released under his own label, Javotti Media. The fiery night concluded with an sweat-drenched performance of “Get By.” Stereotude was lucky enough to sit down with Kweli before the show and talk about his career and current observations. Here are some of the things he had to say.
Any time someone interviews you they always ask you to comment on another rapper. Do you ever feel like you’re playing referee?
“People have been trying to rush me into a elder statesman role, yeah. I do feel like that’s a lazy way to approach what I do.”
Why is hip-hop so much more competitive than other genres?
“Hip-hop is about building a charactercher. And one of the characterchers that people have built up is, ‘I am the realest, I’m the most genuine.’
You’ve worked with a lot of young rappers recently. Do you notice any similarities in their generation and when you were coming up?
“I see direct similarities. You know, I’m on tour with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis right now and one of things he’s constantly said is that the Reflection Eternal album really inspired what they did with The Heist. Which I can hear the inspiration. …
Mac Miller hit me up when he was a YouTube artist, asked me to do a song with him. I had to look him up. So, interesting thing with Mac Miller: the beat that he sent me was a sample I recognized from group called the Cru. That song with Slick Rick—‘Just Another Case.’ ... He had never heard it, no point of reference for him at all. And I just realized, like, he’s not into this because of nostalgia, ‘cause he wasn’t there. He doesn’t know this album. It just feels good to him, the same way it felt good to us when we first heard it. And I feel like that’s the connection. … There are things early in hip-hop that they’re reaching out to and hearing for the first time. And it’s beautiful to see.”
How do you feel about technology and how it’s used in music?
“I love technology. It’s a gift and a curse. Technology has allowed for many great things to happen, but it has also diluted a lot of things. Most people aren’t trying to intentionally harm, but it does give a rise to mediocrity. It allows people who have opinions that aren’t informed by anything to think that their opinion should be at the same caliber as someone whose opinion might be informed by experience.”
Hip-hop is on the radio now more than ever. Has that caused you to pay more attention to pop music?
“I’ve been a fan of pop music since I was a little kid. I’ve never not liked pop music. … I was a fan of pop music long before I was a fan of hip-hop. My first favorite groups were Duran Duran and Tears for Fears. And, you know, Madonna. Stuff like that before I got into hip-hop.”
Your message is so positive. How do you balance this idea of community with doing music that is personal?
“The more that I focus on community, the better the art is. The more inspired the art is. It works hand-in-hand.”
You’ve been making music for nearly 20 years now. Has there been one thing that’s been a constant in your motivation?
“My family. My kids.”
Our culture seems retro-obsessed right now, both in music and things like “Throwback Thursdays.” Is it dangerous to dwell in the past?
“Everything requires balance. If you’re living in the past, that’s no good. If you disrespect the past, that’s no good either. You’ve got to find the right balance.”