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Talib Kweli

New Testament

interview by Meshack Blaq
photos by Animal Chan

Perception can be a tricky thing. It can lead one to believe things that may or may not be true. In the case of Talib Kweli the preparation was standard and he didn't make it any easier for this scribe. The interview started cold and there were a lot of deleted short answers. It took longer than anticipated because for the eleven questions and answers printed here, there were twenty-two others that at times seemed like verbal sparring, with this writer getting jabbed repeatedly. When Talib opened up, he dropped heavy information that after reading and re-reading makes for excellent copy. It shows the harmony created by appropriate inquiries of a character and receiving well thought out yet concise responses. I'd like to call it a NEW TESTAMENT

KRON: Do you have an opinion on the process the whole Presidential election went through?

TALIB: I've always thought it was fraud and now I feel they just proved me right. I feel like it's fraud because the fact of the matter is for someone to be able to be nominated for President, they have to be so neutral and so safe that their opinion doesn't count for anything. Therefore what they say doesn't matter. What they say could change depending on the political climate of whatever time we're in now. So for instance, it's cool to like Gay people and abortion is legal right now. Ten years from now that might change. That's what changes the political trends, and people's pockets get lined. We elect more and more Black officials into office but our communities get worse and worse. And what starts to happen is you have everybody glued to the television trying to figure out who's gonna win the election when no one is dealing with any issues at all. The only thing we're concerned with is who's gonna win and who said what about who, and this and that, and that and this. So it's a fraud. It's a distraction that people are not discussing things that are relevant in people's lives. The only thing theyıre discussing is who's gonna win and all those pundits and people on television are just making a whole bunch of money off of it. That's what I think. And that to me itıs a fraud because they have us believing that the actual process is more important than the issues. That's a problem.

KRON: Are you cynical about voting per se?

TALIB: I don't think it's cynicism. I think it's just directly dealing with the truth. I'll never tell somebody not to vote. I'll never tell anyone to NOT participate in the process because in order for us to really change our situation, we need to change all aspects of it. We need dudes in the street ready to go all out. We need people in the schools, we need people in the Senate. But that's not my focus. That's for them politicians to be beatin' their heads over. My focus is dealing with how we talk to each other, how we relate to each other, things we can do in our community. How we can get Black children to feel better about themselves; self-esteem, self-love, stuff like that. That's what I'm talkin' for. For instance, a concrete example is a kid with books. I've been putting in the time, effort, and money for two years, then politicians come sniffin' around and wanna give money. So that's what my focus is instead of jumping into politics. Cause to me, it's a distraction.

KRON: A big issue in this past election was education and school vouchers. What's your position on self-education?

TALIB: Both my parents are educators and work heavily in the educational system in this country. I did well in school and I saw that school doesn't work. It keeps people right where they're at instead of allowing them to progress. It tells people to go to college whether or not they know what they're going to college for. So they've created a generation of people who feel like they have to go, but don't know why they're going. It's the same generation who feels like they have to vote, but don't know why they're voting. And that's a problem because it just creates people who just become consumers and buy whatever you tell Œem. I would actually like to start a school called The School of Thought. These would be inner city schools that focus on making learning and education relevant to these kid's lives, because right now it's not. Hip Hop is a lot more relevant to their lives than school is. That's how I feel about it. Education right now is fucked up. In order to get to a situation where teachers care about you and you could progress, you have to pay for it. A lot of kids in the inner city can't pay for school and it's real fucked up. The schools are just as segregated under the guise of being integrated and it's fucked up.

KRON: When people say Hip Hop, do you have a definition for that?

TALIB: Hip Hop is us; it's what we are, what we've become. Hip Hop is a word that defines this generation. I don't think it's just music. I don't think it's just an Art. I think it's a whole way you think. There are positives and negatives to it. I think we're a very individualistic generation because we tend to just think about ourselves. But I also think we have a lot more power in terms of information. I think we have a lot more economic powers than our parents did. And there are positives and negatives to everything, but Hip Hop is what we are; white, Black, whatever. Of course the foundation is Black & Latino Culture, which is where it comes from. But we've created a whole generation of thought.

KRON: What's your take on the term "Conscious Hip Hop" in 2001?

TALIB: I liked Hip Hop better when it was just Hip Hop. When De La could tour with NWA and Slick Rick & EPMD could be on the road with Public Enemy. I liked it better then because then it was just Hip Hop. I do realize the media needs to throw terms around to categorize it because they have Gangsta shit that's popular now. So it makes it easier for them to make money if the shit is in categories. If the shit is not in categories, they don't know how to make money with it. Hip Hop like anything in life needs a balance. As long as that balance is represented, we're all good. When it's not represented, it's a problem. Conscious artists are always gonna be there and always gonna be a part of it, but right now it's cool to say, "I'm feelin' Conscious Hip Hop or Underground Hip Hop". It's trendy to do that so it's cool. Whatever. As long as regardless of whatever the trends are, I can make my music.

KRON: To you, is there a such thing as a Hip Hop Intelligensia?

TALIB: If there is, there shouldn't be. I'm not into that whole shit. That (Prof. Henry Louis) "Skip" Gates bullshit. I'm not into that. I'm into talking to people and dealing with people. To classify a group of people because they went to school and read more books than somebody else doesn't make no sense to me. All you do is limit the amount of conversation and the amount of interaction you can have with people, and that's stupid. When I was younger I might've said intellectual shit in rhymes because it sounded cool. But as I get older and I realize what you're implying when you consider yourself an intellectual, and that's some real arrogant bullshit.

KRON: Do you consider yourself a Revolutionary?

TALIB: I consider myself moving in that. I believe that the way I live my life is a Revolutionary life. People have many different definitions of Revolutionary. According to the Revolutionary Communist Party, no I'm probably not a Revolutionary. But I believe that Revolution is how you deal with people. I really believe that Revolution is personal. Revolution at the root of it means to change. And I do believe I'm working it out what to change to. I believe that things in this country can't change without bloodshed. That's just fact whether you believe in Peace or not. When Malcolm said, "The Ballot or the bullet" it was relevant for that time .I believe they couldn't see the future. And the fact of the matter is that even though it was on the law books, Black people were not allowed to participate in that election process. And you had to have police officers, who were no friend to the community, hold off white people and allow Black people to cast their ballots. I believe that was an action needed at the time. Now it's thirty years later and we see that we've elected all these Black people for our communities to get better, but all we have is Black Politicians. That didn't help nobody. That's how I feel.

KRON: There's not a flipside of Talib that goes to the strip joints?

TALIB: I've never actually been to a strip joint. All my friends go to strip clubs; conscious or not, they all go. I never saw any relevance to it. The shit is a loser move to me. Why would I go look at somebody shake... I would feel like a real asshole if I was at a strip club. I don't know. I can't get over that. People have tried to make me go. I've had girlfriends I've been with try to make me go. That shit seems corny to me. That's just me though.

KRON: What does Talib Kweli mean?

TALIB: Talib means "student or the seeker". And Kweli means "of truth and knowledge". They're both African names. Talib is Arabic and Kweli is an Akan name. It's the name my mother gave me.

KRON: No Hip Hop alias?

TALIB: Nope. You have to make a decision when you do Hip Hop. Even Kweli in the character is a little bit different from how I live my life. In Hip Hop, you create the character, you create the dialogue, you block the scene; you almost create a movie. Whether it's as an extreme example of Eminem as Slim Shady or Sticky Fingaz doin' Kirk Jones, or if it's as subtle as Mos Def just calling himself Mos Def, but his politics still being in line with Dante Smith. And thinking about all that, I just chose to be who I am because that's what I do best. I do the music that I feel is close to me best. It's hard for me to do this other shit and I appreciate it. A lotta times I wish I could just step out of myself and become somebody else, but it's hard for me to. But it is fun to do that, and you do express yourself and get your point across when you do that. So I don't down it. I just find it easier for myself to do it this way.

KRON: Is there a fine line between a groupie and a conscious fan regarding females?

TALIB: You're not always able to tell the difference. And it works both ways. There could be someone who's really, truly a fan of the music and wants to give you love for it, and you take it the wrong way. That definitely happens. And there's also times when you never know. You have to deal with each individual as it is. What's interesting though is that because my album is out, and I'm more out there in the media, women have easier times saying things to me. But as close as a few months ago, I would do shows and Black women would never come up to say anything to me. Never. Always a whiteboy in the crowd would say something Œcause they the only ones that feel comfortable. It's tough with the fans, an' shit. On the other side, a lotta women are on that bullshit. I had these two girls in our room last week who made it known they wanted to hang out after the show. "What are you doing after the show? We tryin' to smoke some blunts. We tryin' to go here. What y'all tryin' to do? Oh, Word? OK" So I told Œem to come to the hotel, but I never tell girls to meet me in my room even if I want them to go to my room because that shit creates a bad vibe. So I'll always be like, "Meet me in the lobby". So they were like, "Well what's your room number?" Again, they were being clear. So after they came up to the room, me and my man Howie were chillin', and Howie is like the total opposite of whatever people perceive that I am. And that's part of the reason why I enjoy hangin' out with him so much Œcause it fucks people's head up. So the girl pulled out her incense and started burnin' it. She started talking about the government, and God and everything, this and that. And all I had came to do was take a quick shower and change my clothes, and go to the party. And I didn't understand. Then she was telling us how she does yoga, and she's a dancer. So she gets up and starts stretching, doing all these complicated stretches. She puts her foot up on the tv, and this is all while we're sittin' there chillin', and it's like two o'clock in the mornin'. So to me, she's kinda confused because she came to the room at two o'clock after a show talkin' about wantin' to hang out. And Howie was talkin' about touring with Mos and Clark Kent, and clownin' how she was sittin' there talkin' about the government, an' shit. He said, "The people I be around; by this time they be like, 'Yo, what's up? We fuckin', what's up? And they were acting so offended by what he was sayin', but it was the type of offense that they were visually interested. They were like, "Oooh, how could you say that?" I could tell they were gettin' off on it by saying stuff like, "Brother you shouldn't really talk like that." Well then why are y'all here at two o'clock in the morning? And what are you stretching for? What are you trying to show me that I should respect you for, other than what you're showing me? If that's the case, truthfully you have no business being here. And that's the confusion shit. So we went to the club with them and then we left em alone.