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TFT Interview: Talib Kweli Talks ‘Weed Scientists,’ Hip Hop, And Black Star Days

When A Tribe Called Quest, inimitable elder statesmen of hip hop, released their final record We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service, they gathered a who’s who of hip hop old and new. The political and social implications of that album aside, it should be little doubt why that would include Talib Kweli.

An icon of rap’s backpacker movement, Kweli’s name is synonymous with poetic bars and thoughtful underpinnings. His collaborations include Black Star with Mos Def and Reflection Eternal with Hi-Tek, each further establishing Kweli as an inveterate member of hip hop.

He’s a cerebral artist and a prolific musician – and he’s just kicked off a new tour. So we talked to Kweli to learn his current thoughts on touring, the political climate, and what does he like to smoke?

The Fresh Toast: Is there a message you want to transfer to your audience on this new tour, or something you’re expecting to see form them?
Talib Kweli: I just want people to come and have a good time and listen to great hip-hop – so far on the first stop we had a good time.

Is there a difference between now and the Black Star days in America while touring?
The audience, the people, tape more things than watch them now. Back in the days you could tell what the crowd was thinking and experience a level of back-and-forth because the people responded to the music, they had their hands in the air. Now they’re on their phones.

I definitely appreciate it. But I remember when I first started touring, it was discouraged to let photographers shoot the whole show. Usually it was just one or two songs and then they were forced to leave the pit. That’s a real old school music industry thing. Back in the days, artists wanted to control all their images, pictures. You decided what to do with them. If too many people did it, it would lost value. But now it’s flipped. It’s the opposite. If no one is taking pictures, that’s a bad thing!

Photos by Dorothy Hong

I remember seeing Dave Chappelle live at Rutgers University and he stopped the show because someone was filming it and it seemed totally normal.
With Dave, with comedy, it’s a little different. With comedians, you’re testing new material in the clubs and colleges. With me, I’m performing pre-recorded music. It doesn’t make sense for me to protect footage. For comedians, if their set gets on YouTube, no one is going to pay to see it.

What do you eat, drink, consume while on tour across country – how do you relax?
I do what I love for a living, so making hip-hop music is relaxing for me. And I try to eat as best as I can. Right now as we’re talking, my fruit, oatmeal and egg whites came. But I might have some fatty fried food later on. I have the same vices as most Americans: caffeine, sugar, pot, alcohol, tobacco.

Do you like sativa or indica?
I’m not a weed scientist – I don’t know the difference between a sleepy high and driving high.

Did you do anything over the political weekend?

I ended up participating in a couple of marches. I was staying in downtown L.A. so it was convenient for me to walk. There was an immigrants rights march on the 19th and, of course, the Women’s March. I did a free anti-Trump concert in Orange County. That was cool. But my life didn’t start or start with Donald Trump.

Photos by Dorothy Hong

You live in New York, right? What’s the vibe there – it seems if any city can withstand the new president, it’s New York.
I might not be the best person to ask because I travel so often. But New York didn’t vote for Trump. Trump lost here by a wide margin. The city can withstand a lot of stuff.

Any plans for upcoming new music?
All the time. I drop projects every couple of months. And at the end of this tour, I’ll be dropping a new record.

Last week we ran an interview with Sir Mix-A-Lot about the 25th Anniversary of “Baby Got Back.” Just for fun, do you have any thoughts on the significance of that song?

I’m glad you told me! I’m performing in Seattle tonight and I plan on bringing Mix on stage. I didn’t know it was the 25th anniversary. I’m more of a “Posse on Broadway” kind of guy – but when “Baby Got Back” came out, that was hugely popular. To be a black person in American, right now in 2017 the big ass is something that’s revered in our culture from the Kardashians on down, fake ass cheeks, implants. But when that song came out, it was revolutionary even though it was rude and crude. It celebrated black women’s asses. Sure it’s a booty poppin’ record and fun in the club, it has that great bass line. But for him to say, “Oh my god…” and imitate a white girl up front. Popular music didn’t deal with race at all. So to deal with it in a playful way, it crushed and smashed a stereotype.

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