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The Beautiful Struggle: An interview with Talib Kweli

At the age of 36 Talib Kweli is moving into an interesting stage of his career. In the wake of 2007′s Eardrum he reopened the books on Reflection Eternal with Hi-Tek, hitting the road as part of the Rock the Bells tour before eventually releasing Revolutions per Minute last year. Now once again claiming independence from a major label, he’s just released his fifth solo album, Gutter Rainbows. Aside from his investment in his music, the well established MC has been a frontrunner in terms of adapting to new media innovations; both his personal Twitter and Facebook accounts boast over a quarter million followers/fans, and he’s adamant about building social functions into the website for his Blacksmith Music label. Recently I caught up with Kweli for a brief email interview to discuss this transitional stage of his career, what it’s like to have a quarter million people see his tweets and what he learned from recording his new album, Gutter Rainbows.

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Chris DeLine: Do you feel a renewed sense of energy after spending time working on Reflection Eternal again?

Talib Kweli: Working on Reflection was great but I do feel like I can create my own pace now. Its not a renewed sense though.

CD: You recently worked with Pepsi—how did you approach that opportunity? What do you hope to gain from such a relationship, and are you presently working with any other companies in terms of building a working partnership in the new year?

TK: Dru Ha and Cornerstone presented me with that opportunity. I am not working with anyone per se, but if I can do something creative and help get my music out there, and there’s a company that I’m not at odds with that can help me do that, I’m open.

CD: You recently spoke to Tavis Smiley’s people about the impact of technology and social media has had on how artists promote themselves. Do you have any special or unique approaches to promoting the new album in the coming months?

TK: The guys at 3D have really helped me keep up with the Myspace and Facebook fans. Twitter is a natural medium for me, so I engage fans a lot there. I also have my online community.

CD: What’s it like to have 240,000 followers at your fingertips—knowing that every time you send out a message, you have a quarter million people who are likely going to see it?

TK: Well some of those are bots, haters, or just people who think its cool to follow celebs, so I would guess around 100K are genuine fans. It really helps show-wise and it helped me to get my laptop back after it was stolen, and clear untrue rumors about myself. So it’s very powerful. For some, it’s the only source of information they can find on me.

CD: Do you feel that moving in to this new year there’s a feeling of positivity? Gutter Rainbows would suggest something of taking the negative and making something positive out of it.

TK: I surround myself with positive people so its like that for me all year every year. Yes, it’s the tree that grows in Brooklyn, the rose from the concrete, the beautiful struggle.

CD: When looking back at Eardrum, that album had some serious names behind it: Madlib, Kanye, Just Blaze, Pete Rock, etc. On Rainbows you worked with some top-tier producers, but some that the average music fan might not know of. Was it a formulated move to not bring in some of the same familiar faces again that you’ve worked with in the past?

TK: I worked with those who were immediately available and passionate on Gutter Rainbows. Eardrum was a longer drawn out process, Gutter Rainbows took two months to finish. 88 Keys got on Gutter Rainbows late because he was used to the Eardrum pace. When he saw how quick I finished the album, he stepped up.

CD: Every day there’s a chance to learn something new about oneself, but did you learn something about yourself through the recording of this album that surprised you?

TK: I learned that I want to be independent from here on out.


3 Comments

    The image reflects the record…..that Beastie Boys sample in “I’m On One” is a banger though, as is the Jean Grae jump “Uh Oh”.

    cheers/yo

    • Cold Rain video was good, maybe great! The message came through, the philosophy too! The interview was straight ahead – independent, forever! Thanks Talib; thanks, Chris!

    Thanks for this interview. Window into the art and the hustle of Talib Kweli. Much peace.

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