Shakespeare once wrote, “Uneasy is the head that wears the crown.”
If anyone can relate to this line, it’s Talib Kweli Greene. As a rapper who is highly regarded as a legend in the realm of hip-hop, he’s been tasked with figuring out how to actively be a part of the legacy he carries. An entire generation of musicians looks up to him as one of the founding fathers of conscious rap. It’s a tall order, but since his musical debut, Greene, who is better known as Talib Kweli, has not only lived up to his fans' expectations, he’s exceeded them impressively.
Since his 1997 debut, Kweli has crafted dozens of solo and collaborative albums, each filled with the kind of lyrical prowess that has earned him a place in the top tier of hip-hop creators. That being said, his 1998 collaboration album Talib Kweli and Mos Def are BlackStar catapulted his career and the entire genre of hip-hop in a way that few saw coming.
Liveabout.com defines conscious rap as “a subgenre of hip-hop that focuses on creating awareness and imparting knowledge.” One of the first widely distributed “conscious rap” albums, BlackStar was a direct contrast to the rest of hip-hop at the time.
The album decried concepts that were pushed by popular rappers. Instead of glorifying shady behavior, Kweli and Mos Def (now known as Yasiin Bey) were using their platform to denounce misogyny, materialism, and lack of originality in music with a lyrical cadence and skill level that turned the rap world upside down.
Kweli seems to be in tune with the current state of affairs and recognizes that in order to have a discussion about the society we live in, we have to be adaptable to how those conversations are had and what they're about. Twenty years into his career, Kweli’s message hasn’t changed, but the world has. He’s managed to keep pace with the digital age of millennials, a feat that cannot be overstated. He is one of very few rappers from his era that gets Twitter and YouTube.
The result is career immortality. He’s hasn’t lucked into staying current. He’s worked tirelessly to study what relevancy even means in this day and age. Instead of rejecting or ignoring cultural shifts, the rapper embraces them, folding new trends into his years of experience to create content that is somehow a fusion of old and new hip-hop at the same time.
"It’s important to pay attention to the trends but not get caught up in the trends,” he said in a 2017 interview with the Atlantic. "It’s dangerous to dismiss what young people are doing."
These days, Kweli spends as much time online as he does on stage. His interactions on the web are as widely varied as they are entertaining. Earlier this year, he launched a podcast in partnership with Uproxx called The People’s Party. In 2010, he founded an independent label named Javotti Media. The roster is stacked with millennial talent, all of whom have catalogs unlike anything else being pushed in the mainstream. Kweli has his thumb on the pulse of hip-hop and is using the tools available to stay actively involved in its growth.
Despite being a veteran, retirement seems far out for Kweli. Currently, he’s touring, promoting his 2017 album Radio Silence while simultaneously introducing the artists from his label to the general public. Even though his Twitter conversations toe the line between revolutionary and incendiary, it’s hard not to appreciate what he means to hip-hop as a whole.
“I’ve come to a point where my name is synonymous with quality,” he said in a recent interview on 106.1 KMEL, a Bay Area radio station. “It’s not just because I made an album called Quality,but because I represented that.”
Talib Kweli w/ NIKO IS, Chazmere, Scruse Boy, E$cott, Blaine Coffee. 7 p.m. Saturday, August 10, at Marquee Theatre, 730 North Mill Avenue in Tempe; luckymanonline.com.Tickets are $25 to $45 via TicketWeb.