Talib Kweli Interview
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His new album Eardrum is set for release on August 21st and currently he can be found touring with acts such as Pharoahe Monch and Nas on the Rock The Bells Tour. He’s often regarded as a “conscious” MC and he isn’t Common or Mos Def. If you weren’t able to figure out that Talib Kweli was our mystery man, than you either refused to look at his photo (to the left) or you aren’t familiar with what real hip-hop is all about. In an interview with DJBooth’s DJ “Z,” Kweli talks about his friendship with rapper Bun B and their collaborations on both artist’ new albums, why money doesn’t play a role in the creation of his music, and how he feels about the stigma of being labeled as a ‘conscious’ artist.
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Talib Kweli Interview Transcription
DJ Booth: What’s goin’ on ya’ll? It’s your boy “Z,” doin’ it real big, and joining me inside the DJ Booth is an MC who is currently on the Rock the Bells concert tour, and soon has plans to invade your eardrums. Please welcome Talib Kweli. How you doin’?
Talib Kweli: What up, Z? What’s goin’ on?
DJ Booth: Not much, man. You’re down in St. Petersburg, Florida, part of the tour I’m assuming. How’s the tour been so far?
Talib Kweli: It’s been good. I’m havin’ a good time.
DJ Booth: I know you’ve been all along the Eastern Seaboard. Of all the stops that you made thus far, what city has had the best crowd?
Talib Kweli: The best crowd? Last night Atlanta was pretty good. Atlanta’s crowd was pretty good, but New York – maybe a better show for me technically, but I loved the crowd last night.
DJ Booth: Joining you on the concert bill are Pharoahe Monch, David Banner, Nas, and Wu-Tang, among others. As a fan of hip hop, who have you enjoyed the most rock a live crowd?
Talib Kweli: I enjoy all of them. I enjoy The Roots, I enjoyed Mos (Def), Pharoahe, Wu-Tang, Nas. There’s not one that I’m enjoying more than the others.
DJ Booth: Has the opportunity to tour with the aforementioned acts given you the opportunity to artistically collaborate in a way that you maybe didn’t get before?
Talib Kweli: No, I mean I tour 250 shows a year, and these artists I see all the time. So it’s not like this tour is making me more artistic, but you know, it’s always good to be around your brothers, you know?
DJ Booth: Certainly. You said you do a lot of touring. Do you prefer to perform at large venues with thousands of people, or small, intimate venues with a few hundred?
Talib Kweli: To me a show is a show, man, I just like performing.
DJ Booth: On August 21st the new album, “Ear Drum,” drops. After numerous delays, is the album finally ready to be unleashed?
Talib Kweli: Yes.
DJ Booth: How much do you scrutinize your own material – was that part of why the album was delayed?
Talib Kweli: Well it’s not about scrutinizing so much as it is about finishing.
DJ Booth: Do you think that the label – not just yours, but labels in general sometimes set release dates ahead of time when maybe the projects are not ready, and then-
Talib Kweli: Yes, they always do.
DJ Booth: What do you think can be done so that doesn’t happen in the future?
Talib Kweli: I think labels have to be able to trust their artists more, and labels have to be less reliant on these retail chains in terms of marketing and promoting the artists.
DJ Booth: Among the artists you have featured on the album, one in particular stood out to me; UGK. They make an appearance on the song, “Country Cousins,” and on the new album they have, “Real Women.” What brought the underground kings of the South, and an artist who is very familiar with the underground success in yourself together?
Talib Kweli: All the credit for that go to Bun B, you know? Bun B is somebody who remains prolific – like, I know about UGK’s music. I’m not from Texas, so I don’t know the impact that it had on artists down South. I’m the type of person if I see somebody I’m gonna show some respect, and I’m gonna exchange they numbers, but Bun B, he really is good at maintaining a relationship and making sure – he love his music so much that when he see somebody who’s passionate about it, he stays in touch with them, and I have to say that Bun B has been a great friend to me over the years.
DJ Booth: Besides working together, just off the mic, what have the two of you been able to discuss from his growing up and working in the Southern region of hip hop, and you on the East Coast that maybe you didn’t think would be similar, but turned out was the same situation?
Talib Kweli: Well, I think that I have similar music tastes to somebody like Bun B, and, you know, it’s just you grow up differently. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, he grew up in Port Arthur, Texas. So the subject matter or what’s gonna be accepted, and what people wanna hear you rap about is gonna be slightly different, and I think Bun B is a representation of me down South.
DJ Booth: Do you think that this will open up some ears down South for fans who maybe have never given your music a chance?
Talib Kweli: Hopefully it’ll do that across the board, both ways, but more importantly than that it’s two people who love the music doing music together regardless of what region.
DJ Booth: I couldn’t agree more. Talib, seven months into 2007, and zero hip hop albums have gone platinum. Knowing the current trends in the industry, which point upward toward ring tone and digital download sales, how much of a focus was there on creating a 16-song album capable of being playing start to finish, that you know your fans would appreciate?
Talib Kweli: Man, that’s what it’s always been about for me. I ain’t never going platinum, so it ain’t no sweat of my back that other people ain’t goin’ platinum – I’m always gonna be good.
DJ Booth: On your website, you offer “The Words of Ear Drum,” which are short written pieces that you voiced, and below that are instructions that read, “Explore Talib Kweli’s Eardrum through these words,” a few of which include: “hope,” “determination,” “love”, “desire,” “faith.” Not included, however, is the word, “money.” What factor does financial gain play in your life as a rap artist?
Talib Kweli: I’d say it’s a huge factor, but that’s not – it has nothing to do with makin’ music. Making music comes from the heart, from the soul. How you market it, promote it – afterward, you know, it’s financial gain. I want my first week numbers to look right, but that’s not what I think about when I’m recording.
DJ Booth: Every article I read about your new album somehow includes a reference to you being a quote unquote, “conscious rapper.” How do you feel about that stigma?
Talib Kweli: It’s cool. I’d rather be that than an unconscious rapper, you know?
DJ Booth: To me, though, when I hear, “conscious rapper,” I mean – if you’re alive and kicking you’re a conscious rapper, so, everybody is essentially. But what do you think separates you from everybody else that maybe does not have to be in the form of that title?
Talib Kweli: Well, the problem is, is that there’s not other conscious artists, besides Mos Def, The Roots, and Common- who I’m also commonly associated with, and rightfully so – who are able to maintain a level of consciousness and at least crack the mainstream culture, you know what I’m sayin’? I might have a song one year that does better than Common, and Common might have an album that does better than mine, but as far as artists who consistently do it, work us under the vanguard of that artist. I mean, it’s limiting for an artist to be considered one type of anything, but I don’t let it bother me, especially when it keeps me in the company of such high-caliber artists.
DJ Booth: Talib, rappers often don’t give themselves the credit they deserve for being capable of making a difference in the world. Does Talib Kweli make a difference through his music?
Talib Kweli: Sure, every day.
DJ Booth: How so?
Talib Kweli: Just from the things people come up to me and tell me, “You made a difference in my life, when I heard this song,” “This song meant a lot to me,” “This song helped me out when I was goin’ through this, “I didn’t think about this this way until I heard you say it in this song that way,” You know, all types of examples.
DJ Booth: Does that feedback allow you to live every day, recording music, and forget about everything else that doesn’t matter?
Talib Kweli: Yes, it does.
DJ Booth: Talib, go ahead, give everybody a website, or a Myspace address, so they can find out more about this new album, “Ear Drum,” you have dropping on August the 21st.
DJ Booth: Beautiful! I wish you nothing but the best of luck on this brand new project.
Talib Kweli: Thank you sir, I appreciate it.
DJ Booth: Any time, and success into the future. I’ll definitely have to touch base with you when you get to Chicago for the Rock the Bells stop.
Talib Kweli: Yes. Thank you, you too, man.
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