Rolling Out

Talib Kweli talks Black Star, ‘Radio Silence,’ and hip-hop in the era of Trump

Talib Kweli talks Black Star, ‘Radio Silence,’ and hip-hop in the era of Trump
Photo by Eddy “Precise” Lamarre for Steed Media

Talib Kweli is one of the leading voices in hip-hop. For the past two decades, the Brooklyn, New York, emcee has moved the culture forward with superior lyricism and thought-provoking activism.

From his days with Yasiin Bey as the duo Black Star, to his solo classics Quality and The Beautiful Struggle, Kweli’s legendary status has been cemented in hip-hop.

On Nov. 3, Kweli will perform in Atlanta at City Winery.

Kweli recently sat down with rolling out to discuss Black Star’s reunion, the new album Radio Silence, and hip-hop in the era of Trump.

What should your fans expect from your upcoming album, Radio Silence?

I’ve lost count of which album I’m on. It’s a very musical album. It has a lot of features. It’s like a celebration. It’s a musical celebration album. At this point in my career, I’m known for hip-hop and I’m only bringing hip-hop to the table. I experimented with using different musicians such as Robert Glasper and Maurice Brown to spread my wings musically.

How important is it to create music with artists from different regions?

I think that new hip-hop is unique in that your region really helps determine your sound in many ways. And it’s exciting to me and it’s challenging to me as an artist. It makes me better. It makes me understand the culture better. I can’t see doing it any other way. I’m proud of where I’m from. I’m proud to be a Brooklyn MC. I’ve done music that truly represents Brooklyn. But I see myself as an international artist, a global artist. I like my music to reflect me.

What has been the response of you traveling and doing shows with Yasiin Bey as Black Star?

It has been good. I mean we never really stopped doing shows. So it’s not anything new to us. I think the people are so excited about Black Star. When we do get together to do shows, the people always respond well.

How do you feel about the current political climate? 

I wrote an essay called, “Flesh on the Ground: An Era of Trump,” for Medium. My advice would be to follow the lead of the people that are on the ground doing social justice work doing activist work before Trump became president. And you know Trump did not create the situation that we are in. He’s just somebody who has benefited from injustice and benefited from recent events in huge ways. In the hugest ways that we’ve almost ever seen. Trump has not declared war on anybody, so I’m not going to compare him to Adolf Hitler. At the end of the day, Hitler took his ideology and declared war on people and committed genocide. Trump has not put people in ovens yet. So while I fall short of saying that Trump is Hitler, I will say that the ideology that he’s pushing makes sure that we don’t have a free press. Being divisive even when he looks at fascists and he says they are very fine people on both sides. If you are marching next to a fascist, you are not a very fine person. All that is enabling fascism. What I would suggest to people is to do the work and follow the leaders that are doing social justice work that are trying to nip these problems in the bud that created a Donald Trump.

How is it performing in Atlanta?

There [is] a lot of music that people listen to that resonates from Texas to Miami. Every place has its own vibe. And right now, Atlanta has been at the forefront for almost 15 years or so. Ever since OutKast and Goodie Mob. And then D4L, Lil John to Jeezy to Gucci to Future and Young Thug. If you [are] not cracking in Atlanta, you’re not cracking no place else in the country or on the planet. So Atlanta is pretty powerful when it comes to hip-hop. There is a community of people who really appreciate what I do culturally and appreciate what I do musically. People sometimes think Atlanta is trap music culture and that’s it. But there is a community that is really into hip-hop culture and the culture of Black music.

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