Interview: Talib Kweli
Tue, 01 Apr 2014 09:37:10
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For Gravitas, Talib Kweli kept his fans in mind. Not only did he release it directly to them via kweliclub.com, but he architected a tightly woven tapestry of hip-hop brilliance that's meant to keep that faithful audience entertained and thinking. Spanning everything from sharply conscious musings to downright unforgettable hooks, it could very well be a greatest hits of his work as the set evinces his dynamics. He's got the Gravitas to pull that balance off too...
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Talib Kweli dishes on Gravitas, movies, directors, where hip-hop is at, and so much more.
What threads Gravitas together for you?
I'm striving to do that with every album. Of course, on some projects, you're going to do it better than others. With this project, it was the marriage between being excited about the idea and giving myself a deadline. When Ryan Leslie provided the platform for me to do this, I gave myself a deadline. I wanted to make sure I had it out by Christmas time. That's what it was. Knowing I had to finish and having the ideas gave me a better focus. Lyrically, my focus was freedom, independence, an artist's relationship with the fans, and the fans' relationships with the artist. That's definitely reflected in the lyrics of this record.
When did the album title come to you?
It was right before I created it in August or September 2013.
What does it mean to you?
Someone who speaks with Gravitas is someone whose words have weight or a certain amount of importance. There are people who look at me like that in hip-hop. I feel like hip-hop deserves a certain degree of seriousness sometimes.
You find a balance between that message and writing songs that stick with people.
That's what it is the least. Music means nothing if it's not fun or entertaining. It's just pointless.
What's the story behind "Lover's Peak"?
It was something that I recorded years ago. I originally wanted to put it on Prisoner of Conscious. However, Prisoner of Conscious had a lot of love songs on it so I saved it. I was going to do a Valentine's Day thing in 2014 with "Colors Of You" and "Lover's Peak" as a sort of maxi-single. That was the plan until I had the idea of Gravitas. I needed songs for Gravitas.
Which song resonates with you the most at the moment from the album?
I will say "State of Grace" is something that resonates with me. I definitely find there's a lot of people, women and men, who have fallen out of love with hip-hop because of how they view mainstream corporate hip-hop. They don't like the messages. They don't like what's being said. At the same time, they're participating in it because they're not supporting music that doesn't speak to them. It's almost like they're condoning it. They're complaining loudly, but they're not doing anything to support artists who aren't doing that. The song speaks to that, and it's very important.
You've always done that, but that ethos shines through on Gravitas.
Yeah, there are other artists who have done it that I'm inspired by. I'm left to always get it out and get it talked about.
How did "Demonology" come together?
The beat is by a young producer named Lord Quest. He also did "State of Grace". I wrote two verses to it. Gary Clark, Jr. hit me up about a remix for his single. I used it as an opportunity to say, "Well, come jump on my new album I'm working on!" I happened to be in New York the same time as Gary. I was on the tour with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. I got him in the studio in Brooklyn. Big K.R.I.T. was also on the tour with us. I've done a couple of recordings with K.R.I.T. that have never come out for a bunch of reasons. K.R.I.T. was on tour with me. I had been asking him to get on the album, but the tour was so hectic that he didn't have time. The tracklisting for Gravitas came out online, and K.R.I.T. was like, "Yo, why am I not on the tracklisting?" I said, "You didn't record!" He recorded it that day. K.R.I.T. dropped a verse a week before the album came out. He was jealous when he saw the tracklisting [Laughs].
K.R.I.T. brings something new to the table.
I agree with that. When you think about the best MC's in the world, they're looking to K.R.I.T. Kendrick Lamar mentioned K.R.I.T. in his "Control" verse. Macklemore is bringing K.R.I.T. on the road. He's not having huge hit records, yet, but the people who do this know what's up.
Do you tend to watch a lot of movies?
I definitely watch a lot of movies. That's what I do if I get any free time. I'm looking at films. My favorite directors are The Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, and Spike Lee. I like newer guys like Christopher Nolan. I find myself coming back to The Coen Brothers and Scorsese a lot. I like Alfonso Cuarón who did Gravity. I go to films based on the directors more than anything. Scorsese's just the master.
If Gravitas were a movie or a combination of movies what would it be?
That's an easy one—Gravity! It's great. It's like a horror movie, but space is the monster. It really is a visual masterpiece.
What's your favorite Talib Kweli song?