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"That [mentality] is what's being sold to the kids that basketball, drugs, or rap are really the only way to stack paper as quickly and as much as white people," Kweli comments. "There's a hip-hop generation that grew up with the music but that are doing other things. They're being active and successful members of society who have this hip-hop mentality."
Perhaps Right About Now's most effective track has nothing to do with politics or at least not the kind on CNN. "Ms. Hill" is a heartfelt tribute to the dearly missed Nineties hip-hop icon Lauryn Hill. Hill virtually disavowed music following her Grammy-nominated 1998 album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and her absence has resulted in rumors of mental illness. The song "Ms. Hill" doesn't speculate as to the cause of her disappearance; instead it celebrates what she has accomplished and what she stands for: "You give us hope/You give us faith/You the one/They don't like what you have to say/But they still ask for you to come/That's powerful."
"That song has been in me for a while," Kweli comments. "I had reservations about doing it, and then I had reservations about putting it out. But I felt good about it. It's a love song, a hip-hop ballad. It's an honest song, and music doesn't get much better than when you're honest about it."
Personal integrity and honesty might be values difficult to reconcile with pop culture's ever-growing demand for sexual bombast and ghetto fantasy, but Kweli is optimistic. "The future of rap is going to be people coming from a street perspective without having to act ignorant," he says. "We've been there and done that, and now I have a brighter vision of the future. And artists with that mentality are going to be the vanguard of hip-hop's future."
Those of us who listen to the radio and watch MTV2 might find it difficult to share his vision, but it couldn't hurt to give it one more shot.