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Jay-Z & Timbaland »

What do you get when you take the greatest living rapper and the greatest hip hip producer. You get one hot album. Sign the petition and lets make it happen.

by kenn on 8/20/2004 04:53:00 PM

Interview: Talib Kweli - Beautiful Struggle

It seems impossible that your favorite emcee’s favorite emcee doesn’t even have a gold record hanging on his mantle. Both Fiddy and Jigga have testified Talib Kweli’s sublime mic skills while simultaneously obliterating him on music charts. We all know that bronzed records and plaques are no indication of true musical talent but you still have to wonder why more folks haven’t caught the Kweli bug. Will he be sentenced to meander dingy underground vestibules for the duration of his career?

If Beautiful Struggle’s commercial success actually matches its acclaim, we may finally find Talib burrowing to hip hop’s over-fertilized surface. This time out, he’s pumped mad preservatives into his organic flow in hopes of extending his LP’s potential shelf life. With guests like Mary J Blige, Faith Evans, Res, John Legend, and Anthony Hamilton, this record is not only a guaranteed spin at Nubian niches but hipster hotspots as well.

It doesn’t hurt that Talib enlisted some of the best knob twiddlers in the business to bless his sophomore release. Of course, we hear from his sonic sidekick High Tech as well as uber-producers Kanye West, Dave West, Just Blaze, Jazzy Pha, and hip hop’s billion dollar boys, The Neptunes. VIBEOnline recently cornered the quick-witted emcee and played a round of twenty questions. We got the scoop on his beef with a music-looting pirate, what stimulates him in the studio, and why he refuses to vote.

How does your first album differ from your second?

My first album had a lot to do with trying to prove that I could do it myself. This album is more about the music and allowing the music to lead where the songs are going to go.

Do you feel any pressure or limitations with being labeled a conscious hip hop artist or righteous rapper?

No, sometimes people around me do. Media organizations feel like they can’t put me in certain situations…

How much does the prospect of airplay influence your writing?

A couple of times in my history, I got caught up in wanting to run around and meet the deejays, wanting to make sure my record got on the air, but that’s not an honest way to make music and I try to stay away from that as much as possible. When you are honest with your craft, it comes out flyer than anything you try to write for radio.

How has your family affected your career?

My kids are my inspiration and my reward at the same time. They inspire what I do and they are my reward for doing it because I get to feed them and take care of them. They are not just inspiring me, they are the most inspirational thing when it comes to my music.

Do you support Russell Simmons and his Hip Hop Summit’s voting initiative?

Yes, I support anyone inspiring youth to take the power that they have and utilize it.

How about your personal opinions about voting?

Well (laughing) I’m starting to learn from actors and politicians that you don’t have to answer that question. People pretty much know that I don’t really vote. I don’t crusade against voting, I’m not against it. I think if you want to exercise your right to vote, that’s fine. I support everyone’s right to do it. But I exercise that power in different ways. I don’t feel like I would be honest in my vote, because I couldn’t stand behind either candidate.

Let’s talk about your album leak on the Internet?

Well, it wasn’t so much an original but my unfinished copy. It wasn’t a master, or mixed, or presentable—there were hooks missing. I kick lyrics over; Mary J. Blige came in later and laid her shit over. That was the reason I was upset, not because people stole music. Once I present it, you steal what you want to steal, the karma’s on you, it’s not for me to decide. The problem is that it was unfinished and lot of people didn’t get that. A lot of people are overreacting when they say that I got upset about it.

So basically you went back into the studio and reworked it?

Well, I definitely had to purchase more beats and come up with more songs. I have no problem with a fan who saw an early version of my album on the Internet and downloaded it. I could ask them not to but if they did, I understand—I would do the same shit. I want to give my fans who did that something different when the album comes out.

What’s The Beautiful Mix CD?

Fabolous was in LA; I got him in the studio and did a song. Busta Rhymes was like, ‘yo, let’s do a song together.’ He was in the same hotel as I was and he happened to have a studio set up in the hotel, so we went and did a song. I had accumulated enough songs and realized I could really put out some shit so that’s what I did. It’s sort of like a Kweli and Friends type of thing. Some people were surprised at some of the artists that were on there, like The Game or Styles P, but it was really to show the similarities between me and these artists and not the differences.

Some critics have come down on you for working with people like Jay-Z and other more commercial artists.

(Laughs) I don’t know, I just think that’s really ignorant. I know that you agree with me. Anyone that would have a problem with me working with a Jay Z or Fabolous don’t pay attention to this music. These people had to start somewhere before they had a million selling records, before they did a commercial song that you don’t like. There was something there that got them to that point. That’s the artist that I work with, not the industry version of Jay Z but who he actually is as an artist. Not the industry version of Fabolous, but the Fabolous who got his start because he was spittin’ that fire on the Clue tapes.

To listen to music from The Beautiful Struggle click here
To hear “I Can’t Wait,” featuring Free click here

To read VIBE.com interviews with Remy Ma, LL Cool J, Erick Sermon, Young Rome, Lil Wayne.

Free Apple iPod Program