Talib Kweli on New Music and Why Gene Simmons Is Clueless About Hip-Hop

Talib Kweli has a simple description for his shows: Expect "good times all around," says the Brooklyn rapper. Kweli's current tour, which had him in New Zealand when he spoke with New Times, will take the MC to Rec Room for a free show this Saturday. Kweli, who is now two decades into an acclaimed career, says his love for music can be credited to both nature and nurture. "My father DJed a bit in college and had an extensive vinyl collection. As a kid, I stared at those beautiful album covers, and by the time I was a teenager, I had explored most of it."

He was in his 20s when he hooked up with Mos Def to form Black Star, and that's when Kweli shot to fame. The duo's only album, 1998's Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star, earned Kweli a cult following for its fluid flow and lyrical fearlessness. Mos Def and Kweli have reunited several times on the stage, but Kweli has since chosen to concentrate on a ten-album-deep solo career. Though he's obviously not afraid of collaboration — having recorded with Madlib, Kanye West, and Kendrick Lamar over the years — he says there's no deliberate process for how he selects musical partners. "The song chooses the collaborator," he says.

But it hasn't just been the music that has garnered Kweli international attention. He's known today for not being the least bit shy about sharing his political opinions. Last year, while in Ferguson, Missouri, he famously chastised CNN anchor Don Lemon for slanting sympathy toward the police rather than toward the protesters.

Recently, he got in a Twitter beef with Kiss' Gene Simmons after Simmons said in a Rolling Stone interview: "I'm looking forward to the death of rap. I'm looking forward to music coming back to lyrics and melody." Kweli's response was direct and simple: "Chuck Berry shits on Kiss."

Asked about the digital altercation, Kweli replies, again, directly and simply: "If someone said they looked forward to the death of that which gives you, your family, and billions of others life, how would you feel?"

But it is his lyrics that bring the most poignancy and social criticism to people, and Kweli says listeners can soon expect new songs. "I constantly work on new music at all times. I am currently wrapping up a yet-to-be-titled project that I can realistically see being released in the next few months."

Talib Kweli. 11 p.m. Saturday, May 21, at Rec Room, 1690 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 786-975-2555; recroomies.com. Admission is free; ages 21 and up.

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