Talib Kweli: Gratitude and ‘Gravitas’

Talib Kweli performs with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and Big K.R.I.T. on Nov. 8 at the TD Garden in Boston and Nov. 13-15 at Madison Square Garden. He's performing solo on Nov. 16 at the Blockley in West Philly.
Talib Kweli performs with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and Big K.R.I.T. on Nov. 8 at the TD Garden in Boston and Nov. 13-15 at Madison Square Garden. He’s performing solo on Nov. 16 at the Blockley in West Philly.

On his classic 2007 track, “Hot Thing,” rapper Talib Kweli rhymes, “I’m sending this one out to you and you and you.” When dealing with a guy who has been called the deepest thinker in the rap game, you know he doesn’t use language lightly, and Kweli is making good on that claim and literally sending his next album out to you.

“This is the first album I’m dropping directly to my fans,” Kweli says. “No label. No nothing. This is a first. The technology hasn’t been around to do this before.”

In an effort to directly connect with his fanbase, Kweli is making his latest project, “Gravitas,” available in an exclusive presale on the website KweliClub.com. It marks the rapper’s sixth solo album and features the likes of OhNo, Q-Tip, Lord Quest and Rich Kidd. Kweli says his goal is to eliminate the middleman, as in music executives.

“I’m not an artist presented on a huge national level,” he says humbly. “I’d rather just email my core fans and put it out there than spend millions on a direct marketing campaign and hope you buy it. I don’t have to convince you if you’re already a fan.”

“Gravitas” is due to be released Dec. 15. Kweli, who promises to personally interact with fans via email and social media, says it stays true to his classic vibe, meaning it won’t feature any lyrics involving Maybachs or boots with the fur.

“I make music for myself,” he says. “It wouldn’t come out if I didn’t feel good about it.”

While Kweli’s name literally translates to scholar, he disagrees with people who call him a political or psychological rapper. In fact, he shies away from any and all labels. When asked to classify his style, Kweli says, “I wouldn’t. Too many artists get caught up in labels. Just listen to it.”

That seems to have always been Kweli’s method, and it’s also in keeping with the method he prescribes for others. When asked what advice he has for up-and-coming rappers, he says, “Do it yourself. Follow your own path. Make your own way.”

As for his own legacy, Kweli says the approach worked for him: “I did it my way, Sinatra style.”

‘If skills sold’
Kweli may be warming up the crowd for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis at the Garden, but to consider him as a mere opening act is a disservice to his widespread influence.

Jay Z brilliantly references Kweli on “The Black Album” anthem, “Moment of Clarity,” when he spits, “If skills sold, truth be told, I’d probably be lyrically Talib Kweli.”

Translation: If money didn’t matter, Jay Z might have never been big pimping.

“That’s definitely a compliment,” Kweli says. “He’s one of the best, a master of the craft, so for him to come out and say something like that, it’s a credit to what I’m doing.”

Kweli is no stranger to the industry’s big boys. Kanye West often credits Kweli for giving him his start. When West was just getting started in the business — back when concert posters spelled his first name as “Kane” — no one wanted to hear him rap.

No one except Kweli, who let him open for him at the House of Blues in Chicago. West and Kweli remain friends to this day.

Would they ever get together on a track?

“Totally,” says Kweli.


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