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
KRON: Do you have an opinion on the process the whole Presidential election
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 em. 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
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
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 cause 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 em 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 cause 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.