Celeb Row
Talib Kweli
By Andrew Bangs #6

Apr 30 2008 4:23PM

Since his days as a member of rap-super group Black Star1 with fellow-Brooklynite Mos Def2 in the 1990s, Talib Kweli has established himself as one of the most visionary, prolific and sonically powerful artists in hip-hop—and frequently found in the headphones of NBA players. Earlier this year, Kweli made the bold move of founding his own label, Blacksmith Music, to take control of his career and to produce and promote up-and-coming acts like Jean Grae and Strong Arm Steady. Kweli’s first album on Blacksmith, Ear Drum, hit stores this fall. We caught up with Kweli after a show in his hometown of New York City.

How was the show today?
“It was a good show, the crowd was up for it. I played a couple tracks off the new album and they were into it.”

Is it special for you playing shows in your hometown, NYC?

Bonus Points
1. “One, two, three/Mos Def and Talib Kweli/We came to rock it up to the tip top/Best alliance in hip-hop.” Remember that track? (“Definition” from the 1998 album Black Star.)
2. Mos Def is a confessed New York Knick fanatic and once recorded a freestyle track called “Title Ring” about the Knicks ’99 run to the Finals.
3. Check out talibkweli.com and myspace.com/blacksmithmusic for album info, tour dates, downloads, etc.
“Yes and no. The New York crowd is a little more jaded, just because of all the shows that come here. But it’s cool.”

How did your approach to Ear Drum differ from your previous albums?
“This is the first album available on my own label.3 So I’ll be able to make decisions about producing it and marketing it that I previously was not able to make.”

What will that mean?
“By being in touch with the online community and having the label be involved with shows—right now I’m doing over 250 shows a year. I’ll be treating myself as a viable artist.”

Where did the title Ear Drum come from?
“It just came from what I wanted my album to sound like. My music has always been fist-pumping, beat-thumping hip-hop, about the drum. The ear and the drum are two incredible instruments and when you put them together, you get a great image in your head.”

From the Nov/Dec 2006 issue