Talib Kweli hopes audiences have been shaken out of sleep
Minutes before a phone interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, Talib Kweli was engaging in Twitter crossfire with a user who took to the social-media platform to call him a racist. The Twitter timeline revealed that the back-and-forth had been going on for hours, but Kweli was unfazed.
"He was some kid who jumped up to defend Donald Trump," Kweli said. "When I'm tweeting that guy, I'm not talking to him. I'm showing other people, 'Hey look, this is the mentality of where people are at.' "
The hip-hop artist revered for his lyrical skills — and celebrated for his advocacy for social justice — has 1.12 million Twitter followers. He oversees his own website, responds to emails sent in by fans and takes to social media to fight the good fight. By all rights, Kweli should be tired, but on the phone, he was alert and ready as ever to take on the world.
"I think Trump shook a lot of us out of our sleep," Kweli said. "As awoke as I thought I was, I was still asleep to what other people feel in their hearts."
"Talib" means "seeker or student" in Arabic, "Kweli" means "of truth or knowledge" in Ghanaian, and the rapper lives up to his name. For more than 20 years, he has used his music and fame as a vessel to spread messages that aim to awaken his listeners and drive them to think.
The Brooklyn native made his debut in the late '90s as a guest artist on the Mood album "Doom." From there, he did a series of collaborations with Mos Def and, in 2000, co-organized Hip Hop for Respect to speak out against police brutality. In 2011, he formed his own music label, Javotti Media. In 2015, he released his eighth solo album as a surprise free download.
The rapper is currently on tour with Styles P (The LOX) in support of their joint album "The Seven," slated for release in February. They perform in Salt Lake at the Metro Music Hall on Saturday. K'Valentine, a Javotti Media artist, opens.
"The tour is a way to get the word out about the album. The shows have been packed and the people have been showing a lot of love," Kweli said.
In the wake of a new president, Kweli seems more interested in talking about activism than his music. He responds with passion to recent advocacy events such as the Jan. 21 Women's March; Kweli participated in the Los Angeles-based march, one of several protests that he has been a part of.
"The Women's March was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life," Kweli said. "It's a shame that it took us electing somebody like Trump to mobilize this many people. At the same time, if that's what it takes, fine. Let's go."
Kweli is not shy about sharing his political views — a characteristic that has led cyberbullies stemming from the alt-right and white supremacist groups to his Twitter page looking to fight. He responds because he believes that he is speaking through his naysayers.
"The first thing we have to do in this era is really pay attention to where you are getting your information from," Kweli said. "Everyone is biased to a degree. Everyone makes mistakes. Some people lie on purpose; some lie more than others. You have to filter all of that."
At his concerts, he brings with him the electricity needed to shake listeners awake.
"I've learned that it's important to not apologize for seeing things from your perspective, but to also show solidarity for other people who might also be struggling," Kweli said. "All that boils down to is justice and compassion and truth. It doesn't matter what agenda you have, or what lens you are looking through — you are able to see someone else's truth."