Talib Kweli

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Talib Kweli
Talib Kweli - Ilosaarirock 2012.jpg
Talib Kweli performing at the 2012 Ilosaarirock festival.
Background information
Birth name Talib Kweli Greene
Born (1975-10-03) October 3, 1975 (age 39)
Brooklyn, New York City, New York, U.S.[1]
Genres Hip hop
Occupations Rapper, Actor
Instruments Vocals
Years active 1995–present
Labels Javotti Media, EMI, Capitol (current)
Rawkus Records, Geffen, Blacksmith Records, Warner Bros. Records (former)
Associated acts Black Star, Curren$y, DeStorm Power, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Lupe Fiasco, Madlib, Mary J. Blige, Pharrell, Reflection Eternal, Res, The Roots
Website TalibKweli.com

Talib Kweli Greene (born October 3, 1975)[1] is an American hip hop recording artist from Brooklyn, New York City, New York. Kweli also earned recognition through his work with fellow Brooklyn-bred rapper Mos Def, in East Coast hip hop group Black Star, as they are collectively known.

Early life[edit]

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Kweli grew up in a household in Park Slope. His mother, Brenda Greene, is an English professor at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York and his father an administrator at Adelphi University. His younger brother, Jamal Greene, is a professor of Constitutional Law at Columbia Law School, a graduate of Yale Law School, and former clerk to Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court. As a youth, he was drawn to Afrocentric rappers, such as De La Soul and other members of the Native Tongues Posse whom he had met in high school. Talib Kweli was a student at Cheshire Academy, a boarding school in Connecticut. He was previously a student at Brooklyn Technical High School before being academically dismissed. He later studied experimental theater at New York University.[2]

Music career[edit]

Early career (1995–2001)[edit]

Kweli made his underground debut in 1995, with featured five appearances on Doom, an album by Cincinnati, Ohio group Mood (Main Flow, Donte, Jahson).[3] In Cincinnati, Kweli also met DJ Hi-Tek and the two collaborated on a few well received underground recordings as Reflection Eternal, including "Fortified Live" (1997),[4] and "B-Boy Document 99/Chaos" (1999, featuring The High & Mighty).[5] Shortly afterwards, upon returning to New York, he reconnected with Mos Def and formed Black Star.[6] Kweli brought along Hi-Tek to produce their only album, 1998's Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star.[7] The album, released amidst a late '90s renaissance of conscious, Afrocentric hip hop, was immediately hailed by critics and achieved modest mainstream success.[8] When Kweli and Mos Def parted ways shortly thereafter, Kweli and Hi-Tek continued their Reflection Eternal partnership on the 2000 album Train of Thought, which was likewise met with critical acclaim, but modest sales.[9]

Hip Hop For Respect (2000)[edit]

Hip Hop for Respect was a 2000 project which released one EP for Rawkus Records. It was organized by Mos Def and Talib Kweli to speak out against police brutality in general, and the case of Amadou Diallo in particular. On February 4, 1999, Amadou Diallo was shot 41 times by four police officers for reaching into his pocket for his wallet. Diallo was also unarmed. The project aimed to assemble 41 emcees to represent the 41 shots. Rappers featured on the EP include Kool G Rap, Rah Digga, Sporty Thievz, Shabaam Sahdeeq, Common, Pharoahe Monch, Posdnous, Dante and Main Flow of Mood, Nine, Tiye Phoenix, Breezly Brewin' of Juggaknots, Punchline, Imani Uzuri, EL-P and Mr. Len of Company Flow, Aesop Rock, Jah Born of Medina Green, What? What?, John Forté, Fre, J-Live, Rubix, Invincible, Wordsworth, A.L., Kofi Taha, Tame One, Jane Doe, Grafh, Shyheim, Channel Live, Wise Intelligent, Crunch Lo, Rock of Heltah Skeltah, Nonchalant, Ras Kass, Dead Prez, & Parrish Smith. Producers included DJ Khalil, Organized Noize, and 88-Keys.

Quality and The Beautiful Struggle (2002–04)[edit]

Kweli with Black Star comrade Mos Def.

Following Train of Thought, Kweli and Hi-Tek split as well, and Kweli used his first truly solo debut to attempt a move toward a more mainstream sound. 2002's Quality accomplished this goal to some extent, featuring production by a host of different producers, including DJ Quik and Kanye West.[10] Additionally, Dave Chappelle provided two features on Quality.[10] The album was met with widespread critical acclaim and received some mainstream attention thanks to the West-produced single "Get By" which peaked at #77 on the Billboard Hot 100.[11] Quality peaked at #21 on the US Billboard 200 and at #6 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums Chart.[12] In 2001, Kweli with Black Star partner Mos Def contributed to the Red Hot + Indigo compilation album created by the Red Hot Organization in tribute to Duke Ellington, that raised money for various charities devoted to increasing AIDS awareness and fighting the disease.[13] Black Star collaborated with fellow artists John Patton and Ron Carter to record "Money Jungle." In 2002, Kweli contributed to the critically acclaimed Red Hot + Riot, a compilation CD created by the Red Hot Organization in tribute to the music and work of Nigerian musician Fela Kuti.[14] He collaborated with fellow hip-hop artists Dead Prez, Jorge Ben, and Bilal to remake the famous song by Fela Kuti, "Shuffering and Shmiling," for the CD.[15][16]

In February 2004, Kweli also had a guest spot on Kanye West's widely successful debut album on the track "Get 'Em High".[17] On April 7, 2004, Kweli was the musical guest on Chappelle's Show for the third and final time (his previous performances had been on February 5, 2003[18] and April 9, 2003, the latter as part of Black Star).[19][20] In the summer of 2004, Talib Kweli, along with Bob Moore's Amazing Mongrels, supported the Beastie Boys on their "Challah At Your Boy World Tour",[21] and appeared on a Dilated Peoples song called "Kindness for Weakness",[22] (a live remix of which was later featured on the video game NBA Street Vol. 2).[citation needed] Also that summer, Kweli performed at Dave Chappelle's Block Party (both as a solo act and as one half of Black Star).[23] In October 2004, along with Common and Questlove, Kweli contributed to Zap Mama's Ancestry in Progress (2004) with "Yelling Away."[24]

In November 2004, he released his second solo album and final Rawkus release, The Beautiful Struggle, which debuted at #14 in the Billboard Hot 100.[12] Kweli responded to Jay-Z's 2003 record "Moment of Clarity" (on The Black Album, in which Jay-Z rapped: "If skills sold, truth be told/I'd probably be, lyrically, Talib Kweli")[25] in his own track "Ghetto Show" by stating "If lyrics sold then truth be told/I'd probably be just as rich and famous as Jay Z." Despite this nod, the album featured much more commercial production (including The Neptunes, Kanye West and Just Blaze)[26] and although Kweli's lyrics retained their socio-political content, he affected a somewhat harder persona. The album failed to cross over into the mainstream and suffered a critical backlash. For example, Britt Robson of The Washington Post "Struggle" was a "frequently awkward, too-obvious bid to exploit the commercial buzz Jay-Z created."[25]

Trippin' (2005)[edit]

Trippin is a 2005 MTV environmental documentary television series hosted by Cameron Diaz. On the show, said celebrities visit various ecological locales around the world, in particular underprivileged areas of the world. In 2005, Kweli had appeared in an episode also featuring Justin Timberlake, and Jimmy Fallon. The four of them had taken a trip to Tanzania to visit one of the world's largest and most thriving ecosystems left on the planet, the Serengeti Plain. There, they had went into the depths of the Serengeti Plain with a few local zoologists at the time.

BlackSmith Records, Liberation and Eardrum (2005–09)[edit]

In 2005, Kweli released a Mixtape-CD off of his newly formed Blacksmith Records. The project was called Right About Now: The Official Sucka Free Mix CD, a title which is considered likely a response to the criticism of The Beautiful Struggle.[25] The musical offering was generally considered to be a mixtape. However, some people regard "Right About Now" as an official album because of its availability through commercial sites and its release of two singles. "Right About Now" also lacks the DJ overlays often accompanied by mixtapes which makes the CD read more like an official album. The album sold 16,000 copies in its first week of release, debuting at #113 on the Billboard 200.[27] Sparking some controversy, on Right About Now Kweli sampled Ben Kweller's "In Other Words" for his own song "Ms. Hill". In part 7 of Kweller's video podcast series "One Minute Pop Song," Kweller said he found Kweli's use of the song "a little fucked up" due to the fact that it was sampled without permission.[28] In a similar incident, Kweli reacted with outrage on Twitter when a verse from Fly Away was sampled in Peter Andre's track of the same name. Kweli stated, "I protect the integrity of my music like a grizzly protects cubs. Woe to those who actively stand in the way of that."[29] Kweli has not publicly addressed his unauthorized use of Kweller's "In Other Words."

Talib Kweli performing in Brooklyn in 2008

In 2006, Kweli signed a distribution deal with Warner Bros. Records for Blacksmith Records.[30] Warner Brothers launched an online community via Second Life for Kweli.[31] In January, Kweli was featured in a commercial for the NCAA's Big Ten Conference, rapping about the league's basketball teams.[32] In February 2006, Kweli provided the voice of the protagonist in the graffiti-themed video game Marc Eckō's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure.[33] In October 2006, Kweli performed on MTV's Wild 'N Out, hosted by Nick Cannon.[34] On December 31, 2006, Kweli released nine songs he recorded with acclaimed underground producer Madlib for free download in conjunction with the web site for Stones Throw Records, the label to which Madlib is signed.[35][36] The album was entitled Liberation, of which Talib later was quoted by XXL Magazine as saying releasing the album was liberating to him; "The idea that I could put out an album like that: record it in my house, put it out for free and get that type of response."[37] In 2007, the album was made available for purchase.[38] In 2007 Kweli signed acclaimed rapper Jean Grae[39][40] and the group Strong Arm Steady to Blacksmith Records.[41] Also in 2007, Kweli released his third solo album, entitled Eardrum, which was released on August 21. It debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200. The first single was Listen!!!.[37] Kweli embarked on a national Australian tour in October, 2007. "Eardrum", which featured a mix of mainstream and underground producers like Kanye West, Just Blaze, will.i.am, Nick Speed and Pete Rock,[42] received generally favorable reviews[43] and went on to sell 129,000 copies after four weeks.[44] Also in 2007, Kweli released a mixtape containing rare and collaborative songs, entitled Focus.[45] October saw Talib Kweli play one of China's earliest music festivals, the Yue Festival, organised by Split Works, alongside Faithless and Ozomatli.[46]

In March 2008, Kweli was featured on MTV's TV show MADE as the coach of Colin Colt, a young man who wanted to be made into a rap star.[47] Kweli was a featured artist on the 9th Wonder and Buckshot album "The Formula", released on April 29, 2008 (on the track "Hold It Down").[48] Kweli's Blacksmith Records split with Warner Bros. Records in December 2008. Kweli confirmed to AllHipHop.com that Warner Bros. would still distribute Reflection Eternal and Talib Kweli projects, but not other acts on the Blacksmith label.[30][49][50] Kweli was featured at the fifth installment of Hot 97 radio personality Peter Rosenberg's acclaimed live interview series "Noisemakers with Peter Rosenberg" on October 21, 2009.[51] Kweli recorded an album entitled Party Robot with R&B singer Res and musician Graph Nobel under the group alias Idle Warship.[52] The album was released as a free download on the website for Kweli's label Blacksmith with 2 different cover art options in late 2009.[53] There were videos shot for two of the songs from the album: "Bedroom Lights" and "Black Snake Moan".[54][55]

In February 2009 it was announced that Talib would be featured in the graphic novel-turned-animated series Blokhedz on Missiong.com, voicing the lead part of the character Blak.[56][57] Additionally, Talib Kweli is a spokesperson and mentor for P'Tones Records a non-profit after school music program that's mission is "to create constructive opportunities for urban youth through no-cost music programs."[58]

Reflection Eternal reunion and Gutter Rainbows (2010)[edit]

Talib Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek released a second Reflection Eternal album titled Revolutions Per Minute on May 18, 2010. Revolutions per Minute was recorded at Electric Lady Studios. It is their second album after a 10-year hiatus. The album received generally positive reviews from most music critics, based on an aggregate score of 80/100 from Metacritic.[59]

Gutter Rainbows, Kweli's fourth solo album, was the first to be released by Javotti Media. The album was originally intended to be released in only a digital format. However, on November 16, 2010, Duck Down Records announced its plans to offer Gutter Rainbows a CD release outside US.[60] This will include an import edition and a special edition with extras.[61] In its first week, the album sold 13,900 copies in the United States.[62] In December 2010, Talib Kweli appeared with Darryl McDaniels, Mix Master Mike and Ahmet Zappa on a cover of Frank Zappa's "Willie the Pimp" for The Frank Zappa AAAFNRAAAA Birthday Bundle 2010.

In 2011, Kweli was featured on the soundtrack for the film You Got Served: Beat the World with the song, "Infinite Love." [63]

Kweli's latest and fifth album, Prisoner of Conscious, a title derived from Talib's constant labeling as a "conscious rapper" and based on Nigerian reggae artist Majek Fashek's album "Prisoner of Conscience." Kweli began working on "Prisoner" before "Rainbows" was released, and put cuts that were originally intended for "Conscious" on "Rainbows". He also confirmed that he will reunite with MadLib to offer Liberation 2.[64] Upon its May 7, 2013 release Prisoner of Conscious was met with generally favorable reviews from music critics, and debuted at number 48 on the Billboard 200 chart, with first-week sales of 10,000 copies in the United States.[65] The album feature appearances from Nelly, Miguel, Curren$y, Kendrick Lamar and Busta rhymes. With production by RZA, J. Cole, Oh No, Harry Fraud, and others. The selection of the tracks on this album were more experimental and worked towards illuminating musicality. Kweli then went on to release music videos for Hamster Wheel, Upper Echelon, Come Here and more.

Shortly after in August 2013, Kweli announced that in 2014 he will release his next studio album, Gravitas which will contain production from Q-Tip.[66] However, on October 5, 2013, Kweli revealed that Gravitas would be released independently on December 15, 2013. He also revealed the cover artwork, and that the album would feature production by Q-Tip, Oh No, LordQuest, and Rich Kidd.[67]

Javotti Media[edit]

In 2011, Kweli founded Javotti Media, his independent label which currently includes up and coming talent such as singer Res, and the protege of Pimp C, rapper Cory Mo. Javotti is based out of Brooklyn, New York and is expected to be releasing new music from its artists in the year 2013.

Personal life[edit]

His first name, Talib (طالب), in Arabic means "student" or "seeker"; his middle name in Swahili means "true". Talib Kweli married DJ Eque on May 9, 2009 in Bel Air, California.[68]

Kweli has a son, Amani Fela Greene, and a daughter, Diani Eshe Greene[69][70] with author Darcel Turner.

Kweli used to be a Five-Percenter, which had an influence on him earlier in his life and continues to do so.[71][72]

Politics and activism[edit]


Talib Kweli is known for his strong political views and activism, including on the topics of racial stereotypes and police brutality. Talib Kweli has stated that he would focus on the prison industrial complex if money was not a problem.[73]

He refuses to vote, and calls politics "an illusion". He is an advocate on behalf of political prisoners and a supporter of community organizations like the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. He has spoken often to inner-city high schoolers and college students.[74]

Kweli urged people to ask hip-hop artists questions in order to engage them politically, but warned not to get frustrated if artists do not "give you what you want" in their replies. He said that music artists bear an unfair burden to use their music as a platform because they have the ability to influence more people. Kweli mentions that artists, just like their audience, fall victim to their upbringing.[75]

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Talib Kweli stated that young people are the only people that can make a difference because they have the energy to actually go out to the public and do something. However, he stated his belief that activism cannot be done by just sitting at a computer.[76]


Along with Mos Def, Kweli organized the Hip Hop for Respect CD and video in 2000, which spoke out against police brutality and specifically about the death of Amadou Diallo at the hands of New York City police. Profits from the CD were given to the Hip Hop For Respect Foundation, a nonprofit organization that encouraged celebrities to become involved with their fans. The Hip Hop For Respect contained 41 different artists for each shot that the police took at Diallo.[77]

In May 2005, Kweli and Mos Def gathered with supporters at City Hall to demand that the federal government drop the million dollar bounty that was placed on political activist Assata Shakur's head and remove her from the terrorist watch list.[78]

Talib Kweli visited the Occupy Wall Street camp in October 2011 to show support for the protestors.[79]

On October 1, 2012, Talib Kweli spoke at a rally at city hall to urge the NYPD police to end their stop-and-frisk policy.[80]

On August 7, 2013, Talib Kweli traveled to Tallahassee to spend a night in the capital building with the Dream Defenders, a group of students that created a sit-in at the Florida governor's office to protest the state's stand-your-ground law.[81]

On August 19, 2014, Talib Kweli traveled to Ferguson, Missouri to join the community in protesting the Shooting of Michael Brown.[82]



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External links[edit]