Brooklyn’s own Talib Kweli is a hip-hop legend; with a career spanning back 20 years, he’s remained an insanely prolific artist and influencer. Jay-Z paid his respects when he famously rapped “If skills sold, truth be told, I'd probably be lyrically Talib Kweli” on The Black Album. Kweli’s newest record, Radio Silence, will be released Friday and in celebration, he played a weekend of shows in town with a full band at The Blue Note. The launch “extravaganza” happens tonight at Brooklyn Bowl. We had one minute to pick his talented brain.
How were the live shows at the Blue Note? Do you prefer playing with a band or with a traditional MC/DJ setup?
Talib Kweli: It’s one of the premier clubs in the world, has been for years, and I love playing with my band there. This show was cool because I got to do older songs. Each show requires a different thought process. Spreading my wings with the live band is ultimately where I’m always heading, but the foundation of hip-hop is the DJ. The band show makes it more unpredictable and improvisational, but with a great DJ you can have a sonic and stage dynamic a band can't achieve.
Your new album, Radio Silence, is out on Friday. It's your third solo album on your own label Javotti. What was recording the album like and how was has it been being in total control of your output?
TK: I've been recording Radio Silence for about 2 years, putting it down, picking it back up, it's been a dope experience. It's allowed me to work with many new musicians and to collaborate with rappers you may not expect me to. Total control is the goal. It's always been. It's a wonderful thing.
Other than your collaborative EP The Seven, with Styles P, this is your second release in 2017. Would it be safe to say that this past year has inspired you to create?
TK: Every year is prolific for me. In 2016 I dropped Awful People Are Great At Parties. In 2015 I dropped both INDIE 500 and Fuck The Money. In 2013 I dropped Gravitas and Prisoner Of Conscious. This is all while running a label, doing activist work and touring extensively. My level of output comes from within — it's not dictated by trends or politics. Trump isn't even mentioned on Radio Silence.
In an interview you gave on the Colbert Report years ago, you described hip-hop as being "more folk than folk". I can't agree with that enough. Given the current political climate, do you make the connection that hip-hop is also America's true protest music?
TK: Any music can be protest music. I will say, as the music that’s most closely associated with the most marginalized people in America, hip-hop often responds to social issues. Also, people — unfairly at times — look at rappers as the voice of the Black community. That’s something we should change — rappers will not save you.
Your release party is tonight, and you’re billed as DJ. Who else can fans look forward to seeing?
TK: I’ll DJ a little, but also play with my band, the Whiskey Boys. We’ll be playing and the whole Javotti Media squad, NIKO IS, K'Valentine — they’ll also be in the house.
Any plans to record with Yasiin Bey as Black Star ever again?
TK: Who knows. Maybe.
Fingers crossed! The release party for Radio Silence will take place tonight at Brooklyn Bowl. Doors open at 11 pm. Don't miss out!