After close to 10 years and six albums in the game, Talib Kweli is pretty much considered a veteran. He’s been a consistent solo artist, even though his best work ever was with Mos Def and Hi-Tek, Kweli has proven many times over that he can make classic joints as well.
Now Talib is returning with a new album, :Eardrum, this summer that features apperances from UGK, Jean Grae, Norah Jones, Raheem DeVaughn and KRS-One with production from Pete Rock, Just Blaze, Madlib, Kwame, Hi-Tek, Kanye West and Will.I.Am.
We caught up with Talib to get info on what to expect from the project, his Blacksmith Movement and if there will ever be a Reflection Eternal or Blackstar album again.
Why is the album named Ear Drum?
I want to get back to the sound of what I’m doing. A lot of times with the hip-hop music I do, the distraction is what I’m talking about, whether it’s underground or commercial or this and that and I really wanted people to focus on how the music hits their ear. I don’t think people focus on that enough so I wanted to make sure I concentrated on that and how I put it out there.
Lyrically was there something specific you felt you needed to get off your chest this time around?
Lyrically, I deal with the same themes but I always struggle to apply them to life and have be more than just something you need to hear. I talk about women, the condition of Black women in this country. I talk about self-esteem and love and I talk about the differences of North and South. I just try to talk about today’s topics but put them in way that people are thinking but aren’t necessarily hearing.
How do you go about choosing beats? From beats CDs or in-studio with a producer?
Both. I solicit people and I have people send stuff in. I’ve never done an album where I’m just trying to use this producer or trying to do this one type of music besides Reflection Eternal and Liberation, on my own albums. The sound I was interested in was rounded out by Pete Rock and Hi-Tek and Madlib and Kanye and Just Blaze, those are the chief producers on the album.
There’s a song on the new album where you sort of respond to fans and critics suggestions and criticisms. Do you embrace the criticisms and suggestions or pay it no mind?
Yeah, that’s Pete Rock’s song. But I try to take it and use it as fuel. Any criticism, positive or negative should fuel for the next time out. That’s really what that verse was about. I talked about positive and negative criticisms and turning them around and using them as a fuel to my fire.
There was a bit of confusion among your Christian and Muslim fans when you recited “Hell” on Def Poetry Jam not too long ago…
Oh yeah? Really?
Well, most of them are wondering where you’re at spiritually.
That’s great! That’s perfect. That’s great that they would hear the poem and wonder where I’m at. That means I did my job.
So what inspired the poem?
Basically what people are talking about, what people are fighting about and what people are dealing with inside of themselves. Like I said, I try to deal with subjects that people are really thinking about. That’s a question that I’ve had in my life and I’m sure many people have had, which is what are the differences and what are the similarities between the religions and what has led us to think the way we think.
Is there a particular faith that you practice or grew up with?
Nah. I pretty much say consistently in my music that I don’t participate in any body of religion. I’ve been Christian and I’ve been Muslim, well, I can’t say I’ve been Muslim, I’ve been a 5 Percenter. But I participate in a lot of different faiths and ideas and I have respect for a vast majority of them, all of them I would even say. I think the key for me and my generation is to figure out the good and take from each way of life and apply to our lives. The Christian church has been a beacon of hope for my community in particular the Black community but I would never just wholeheartedly dismiss the church. The way I live my life is closer to Islam than any other religion as far as the way I see things, but I don’t associate myself with Islam either. So I just try to make work that expresses all of these.
The Liberation project with Madlib was classic, any plans for a sequel?
Hopefully. I mean, Madlib is an exciting producer to work with. He has three beats on Ear Drum and yeah, I’m sure there will be another part.
Because of that project, now folks would like to hear you over nothing but 9th Wonder or Just Blaze or Dan the Automater beats. Would consider a similar project with a different producer?
Wow! I just did the Madlib joint, can I get a break?! But yeah a 9th Wonder situation would be easy to do, I would be able to do that in the same fashion I did the Madlib one. The thing is, the Madlib one was demo’d up, I just had too many Madlib beats that I didn’t know what to do with. That’s how it started, I had 400 Madlib beats and I was like, ‘I like all these beats, but I can’t do a whole with Madlib, but then, maybe I can.’
What is the Blacksmith Movement?
I just wanted people to have a flag to wave. What I find missing from the type of hip-hop that I do as opposed to the more street oriented hip-hop, is an actual movement. The artists that I work with, everyone is a visionary. Everyone is so good at their craft, that no one is piggy-backing on each other. And a lot of times in the street-oriented hip-hop, you have one artist that’s good and the rest of the artists piggy back. So what happens is when the rest of the artists are piggy-backing they are creating a movement that people want to be down with, sort of a family. I’ve been a part of families whether it’s Okayplayer or Spitkicker or whatever, but those things have been more fan driven. So with Blacksmith I wanted to create something for those fans, so they can wear that t-shirt and wave that flag and realize that there’s something they can be proud of. Rawkus came close to it, the artists were real visionaries, but they were unable to keep it going. Even to this day, you have people who still think I’m on Rawkus because of the movement that was created. So that’s what I would like to do.
So who’s down with Blacksmith?
Me, Jean Grae and Strong Arm Steady are the first artists. We already started with the Blacksmith The Movement Mixtape and that did well for us. But yeah, we’re going to do as much as we can.
I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask about Reflection Eternal or Blackstar projects.
Hopefully it’ll happen. As people get busy, the projects are harder to do. I have recordings with Mos Def that no one has heard and I recorded with Hi-Tek more than I’ve recorded with Mos Def. There are a lot of songs with me on it on the last Hi-Tek album, so you never know. Hopefully it’ll happen soon.