Talib Kweli Road Rules

Talib Kweli learned an important lesson on the road. Before the Brooklyn MC broke out with Reflection Eternal, Black Star with Mos Def or embarked upon a successful solo career, he saw the importance of visiting places beyond the New York state line.

About Talib Kweli

  • Born "Talib Kweli Greene"
  • Talib is Arabic for "Student"
  • Gained mainstream recognition as one half of Black Star w/ artist Mos Def
  • Born and raised in New York City

“Traveling has definitely enabled me to appreciate other cultures musically, even cultures within hip-hop, whether it’s Down South, Midwest, West Coast,” says Kweli, whose new album, Gutter Rainbows, is due in stores today (January 25) and features the song “Mr. International,” which details his life on the road. “Me working with Hi-Tek early in my career and spending a lot of time in Cincinnati really opened me up. When I was first in Cincinnati, they were listening to a lot of E-40. E-40’s Federal was the album that they were on. Then it moved from the West Coast with E-40 and Spice 1 and Dr. Dre influence to a Down South influence with the rise of Master P.”

Though Kweli listened to the Master P records, he didn’t understand them. But his friends in Cincinnati were infatuated with the music of the No Limit Records magnate. Kweli decided to investigate the reason.

“The dude broke it down for me and as a New York hip-hop fan, it never occurred to me,” he says. “He was like, ‘It’s not so much the music. It’s the hustle. We appreciate the hustle and what he’s talking about,’ and that’s not at all why I listened to music at that point. It made me learn and appreciate that music is deeper than [what I thought it was]. Even me coming from New York thinking I’m so deep with it because the lyrics are deep and the subject matter is deep, on a guttural level, it’s even deeper for people. It’s beyond musicality when it comes to subject matter. It’s what people really, really truly are going through and it’s the same reason that Jay-Z could do a record where he’s like, ‘I’m a multi-millionaire,’ you’ll be in the club singing it like you’re a multi-millionaire.”

Traveling actually made me more relevant at home

Kweli’s subsequent trips overseas helped him expand his own music in other ways. “It allowed me to realize that my sound doesn’t have to be stuck and that I don’t have to be stuck in this format, in this cycle of getting a hit on urban radio and doing BET and MTV,” he says. “I can still be successful. But traveling actually made me more relevant at home. The best examples are Black Eyed Peas and Gnarls Barkley, how they got so super relevant overseas first so when it came home, it hit like a sledgehammer.” 

Talib Kweli Gutter Rainbows Release and Signing in New York

Now that’s he’s traveled extensively domestically and internationally, Kweli also knows who truly has his back. Although no longer signed to a major label, he felt a tremendous sense of security about his career based on his relationships with his friends, many of whom he salutes on the Gutter Rainbows song “Friends & Family.”

“I have a support system, so I just felt the need to celebrate them,” he says. “That song came out very quickly. It came out in an hour or two. It just kind of flowed out. I guess that was a statement that I needed to make.”

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Follow Soren Baker on Twitter: @SorenBaker


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