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Talib Kweli is a stentorian voice for the voiceless, and he doesn’t need your permission

By Prachi Kamble

Talib Kweli opens up tough dialogue with Awful People Are Great at Parties.
Photo: Dorothy Hong

VANCOUVER — Talib Kweli needs no introduction. The Brooklyn-based rapper has created a rich and politically charged hip hop scene on the East Coast that has stood the test of time. With six solo albums and numerous collaborations already to his name including his critically acclaimed work with Mos Def as Black Star, his latest collaboration project Awful People Are Great at Parties (APAGAP) was just released in November on his label, Javotti Media.

Bringing together talents of artists who are just as passionate about social justice as he is, the record sees artists like Hi Tek, Rapsody, Kaytranada, Aloe Blacc, and J Dilla peppering the track list like sparkling rap diamonds. While Kweli himself rapped on some of these tracks, he also produced a few of them and acted solely as a curator on others. “I love group projects,” he enthuses. “On APAGAP, I got to sit back and let the crew shine, which was important. I wanted the world to see that the Javotti squad is talented [both] with and without me and feel [that] the best music is made this way. The more dope artists willing to get down, the better. I don’t want anyone to change for my sake; I think artists should evolve organically. Both my children are artists, and they give me hope for younger artists and art.”

Known to take strong social and political stances in his work, Kweli’s activism has been a significant component of his musical output for more than a decade now. “I have taken many artistic chances in my career and made all types of songs,” he says. “As of right now, I enjoy creating music that uplifts people and brings them hope. I think it’s necessary for my role to be the voice of the voiceless.”

Currently experiencing the aftermath of the recent American presidential election, Kweli felt a greater creative responsibility towards giving that voice to communities and people who are backsliding into vulnerability. “It is important, now more than ever for compassionate people to show solidarity towards groups that will be increasingly marginalized in Trump’s America,” he says.

Putting his words into action, Kweli’s activism saw further culmination in two “Ferguson Is Everywhere” concerts this year. Starting a Gofundme campaign after protesting in Ferguson to raised $100,000, he then put it towards the concert series in order to raise more money and bring positive attention to the high-tension issue. “Tom Morello came, Immortal Technique, K Valentine, Jessica Care Moore, Tef Poe, Pharoahe Monch, and more. We celebrated the life and condemned the death of Mike Brown through art,” he shared.

It’s thanks to rappers like Kweli, Mos Def, Naz, Common, and Lauryn Hill that hip hop now enjoys its rightful reputation as an intellectual form of art and literature and can be used as a platform for present day intellectual rappers like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Lupe Fiasco, Lowkey, and Chance the Rapper. “I really don’t care how the powers that be feel about hip hop. I never did,” says Kweli. “They don’t define what great hip hop is, we do. Hip hop was created because of exclusion. We don’t need a pat on the head or approval from the status quo to know we dope.”

Talib Kweli performs at Venue January 25th.

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