If there's one thing you can call Talib Kweli, it's consistent -- sometimes to his own detriment. While his colleagues in the late-'90s conscious rap movement (Mos Def, Common) have routinely stepped out of that well-defined box, Kweli keeps it simple. Smart rhymes, hard beats. It's a good formula, but makes for predictable results (see: his last album, "Gutter Rainbows"). In concert, Kweli is another story. The Brooklyn rapper is magnetic as he brings his scholarly rhymes to life. Kweli will be backed by a live band at Epic, which should give his performance even more juice. Bronx MC Fred the Godson opens. (10 p.m. Sun., Epic, $20/$25, 18 and older.) Tom Horgen
Talib Kweli talks about his new tour, album, and the role of role models in hip-hop
On the heels of his latest effort Gutter Rainbows, Queens rapper Talib Kweli rolls through Minneapolis this Sunday at Epic, with a live backing band and recent XXL freshman Fred the Godson in tow. The album, released online and containing some seriously sick beats and impressive flows, is a precursor to the anticipated Prisoner of Conscious, due out later this year. The album title is perhaps an indication of his frustration with being pigeonholed as a conscious rapper, but while this can overshadow his powerful abilities as a technical MC, it is remains refreshing to hear politics and positivity in the lyrics of a known great.
Gimme Noise talked with Talib Kweli for this telephone interview.
Gimme Noise: Have you toured with a live band before?
Talib Kweli: Yes, but this is the first time I've toured and headlined with a band that was really dedicated to just working with me. I've toured with the Roots, I've toured with the Rhythm Roots All-Stars, I've done tours with bands but they've been with everybody on the tour.
So this is something new, something particular to your individual style?
It is. My life is a tour hustle, and it really enhances what I do. Especially with people purchasing less music, the show has to be more involved and more interesting. I feel like I've sort of reached a ceiling with just me and a DJ. We do part of a set with just me and a DJ, because hip-hop requires that, but for my personal taste, I'm interested in doing more things on stage. Different songs require different things, so we do something different for every song.
Tell me about the artists opening for you.
Fred the Godson is a New York rapper who has a punchline, witty, clever style; I haven't heard someone impress me with something like that since Canibus or somebody. I'm a little biased; I want to see New York hip-hop do it's thing. Too often cats in New York get caught up in just being here in the city, getting out mixtapes and getting on Hot 97 and what-not. I wanted him to see a different type of way to get out there.
Were you specifically aiming for more of the independent music fanbase with the online release of Gutter Rainbows?
That's the runoff benefit of it, but it was more selfish of a decision than that. It was more about being able to have more control over how my CD's released. It was also dealing with the situation where I didn't have a deal at the time when I recorded this album. The independent release [for Gutter Rainbows] was one of the best business decisions I've made since signing to Ruckus.
You made this decision to quicken the release, rather than put it out through a label?
Yeah, I actually rushed it. In an ideal situation, we would've spent six months promoting Gutter Rainbows before it even came out, but I actually rushed the release and got it out in January, even though I didn't finish it until November, because I wanted to make room for the next album.
You recently removed Colt 45 as a sponsor of one of your concerts.
The club, as clubs often do, had an arrangement with Colt 45 in the area. You know, that's not abnormal. If you're a nightclub, that's an arrangement that makes sense for you. But for me, being a black man who's grown up and seen how Colt 45 targets my community, I just didn't want them promoting my show.
Do you think more artists should take specific responsibility for who sponsors their shows?
No, I don't put that on the artist. We need to do that as human beings before we do that as our profession. But artists do have a bigger platform than most, so we're looked at to have more responsibility. Look, if you know better, than you have to do better. If you know that Colt 45 preys on the black community, if you know that and you've done your homework on that, and you don't do anything about it, that's messed up. If you don't know, and you just think it's malt liquor, everybody likes to drink malt liquor, and you're not concerned with those issues, then I can't expect you to be responsible for that.
Do you see yourself as a role model as an artist? Is that a specific intention in what you do, or is that just a product of what you write about?
A lot of people would disagree with me, but I don't believe artists are required to be role models, because I don't think that's conducive to art. If you have to worry about whether or not the kids are paying attention, it's not going to have a benefit to your art. Or it can; there are some people who have dealt with that. Bob Marley is an artist who could be considered a role model. He's an incredible artist and incredible citizen of the world, and he uses art to unite one political party, to uplift people's lives. Bob Marley's art was made better by him taking on social responsibility. My art, what I do, is made better by taking on social responsibility. But I don't think that works for everybody. I don't know that M.O.P.'s art would be made better necessarily, or Eminem, you know? I wanna hear Redman rap about some wild shit.
You recently played on the same stage as P.O.S., a Rhymesayers-signed artist from Minneapolis, at the Paid Dues festival. Are you aware of him or other Minneapolis artists?
No, I don't know, I'm not hip to P.O.S. But Minneapolis has a lot of great musicians, from the funk and soul era, all the way to hip-hop. Minneapolis has exhibited a very strong, independent, soulful musical spirit. I love playing Minneapolis. One of my favorite cities to play.
TALIB KWELI performs with a live band on SUNDAY, APRIL 24, at EPIC, with FRED THE GODSON and BIG REENO. 18+. $20/25. 10 p.m.