Talib Kweli: “Jesus talked to everybody – the beggar, the tax collector, the prostitutes”
Talib Kweli is getting his brag on, raising his taut, nasal voice a pitch, explaining why he shared a track with one-time murder suspect rapper Gucci Mane: “Jesus talked to everybody – the beggar, the tax collector, the prostitutes. Jesus isn’t saying – ‘help those who deserve it’. Jesus is saying ‘Help everybody’ because we all god’s children.”
He has some justification comparing himself to The Son of God: he has been deferred to in verse by Jay-Z and Kanye West; rumour has it that Seamus Heaney is a fan. He is the purist’s choice, delivering consistently smart, traditional hip hop since his debut in ’95. He has collaborated with Jay, Kanye and Justin Timberlake, achieved the unthinkable by signing deals with Warner and Universal as a leftfield MC and with fellow Brooklynite Mos Def, released what is widely seen as a late-golden era hip hop gem, Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star.
Talib is indeed a paragon of virtue in the increasingly dispersed underground US scene, keeping it real to fault whilst newer rappers like Lil B and Odd Future test the boundaries of what’s safe. He’s probably the key target when critics attack the hematoma’d state of ‘undie’ rap – stuck in cellophane perfection and too afraid to move.
Which makes his next quote prescient: “I’m not only going to work with people who follow my mind state. I’m not going to associate with artists that pick beats that I like. That would be real corny of me and it wouldn’t be me being a true artist.”
Of all Kweli’s recent output, his best and most refreshing was in fact the track he did with Gucci Mane [Poltergeist] – who incidentally managed to shift 369,000 copies of his second album whilst in jail.
Kweli’s thinking is the product of a cultivated Afrocentric mind – his mother was a university professor, as is his brother. His take on Baroness Warsi’s lately defined Islamophobia is as follows: “When you trade your freedom for your protection you don’t really deserve either. And the people are so scared that they’re giving away their freedom, and placing their fears on people who have nothing to do with it. And the worst part about it is – you have the Crusades in history which was a terrible tragedy in Christian history and you have Catholic priests raping little boys but it would be foolish for someone to say that it’s Christianity that makes them act like that. Although it’s mainly Catholic Church figures doing it, does that equate to thinking it’s their belief system that’s making them do it? No – they are just sick men.”
His album Gutter Rainbows, out this month, takes its name from a line in The Catcher in the Rye. He didn’t enjoy the book apparently, but felt an affinity with the “gasoline rainbows”, shining out of different gutters, in the same New York. The album has some excellent tracks, none better than the powerful I’m On One [sample lyric: ‘Appetite for diamonds rival that of the Ottoman, Phenomenon, I’ll eat you after dark like this was Ramadan’] and Uh Oh, where Jean Grae makes an excellent contribution.
It was Jay-Z who put Talib Kweli’s name in lights with his verse: “If skills sold, truth be told, I’d probably be, lyrically, Talib Kweli.” Quizzed about the line last year, Talib Kweli replied: “Jay-Z’s not the biggest rapper in the world because he’s the most skilled, I think that’s the point he was making. From the beginning he approached it from a business point of view. The first time I got a cheque was in London actually, when I did a show at the Jazz Café. It was for $1100 and I’d never seen $1100 in my life. I didn’t even expect any money, I just couldn’t believe that someone would fly me over and put me in a hotel to hear me rap.”
Click here to listen to I’m On One from the album Gutter Rainbows which is out nowTagged in: hip hop, rap, Talib Kweli
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