Being a Role Model – Interview with Talib Kweli

by Sonya Sutherland / Schwegweb.com

Schwegweb: What are the three most important issues facing America today?

Talib Kweli: I think the marriage of media, like news, and big business. I think racism. And I think greed, obesity, things like that.

A lot of kids look up to you, right? Do you think artists have a responsibility or that you are an artist by default and parents should parent their own kids?
I think that it’s the parent’s responsibility to raise kids. I think the artists have responsibility only because artists are seen and heard so much more than the average citizen is why the perception is that artists should have more responsibility than the average person. But responsibility, the artist should not be held more accountable for having responsibility than anyone else. Its just they are because they affect so many more people. Unfortunately many artists in popular music weather its hip hop or not, they tend to be young people. People under the age of thirty. People who have not grown with the concept of being responsible or being a role model. So they don’t have that information. You can’t hold them responsible for information they don’t have. If someone doesn’t know they are supposed to be a role model you can’t be mad at them for not knowing.

What do you think of the internet and the record industry current tiff? The RIAA just announced recently that they are going to go after individuals for file sharing, what do you think about that?
I think that sucks. The record industry has been such an unfair practice for so long that the technology has allowed the music to come back a little bit into the hands of artists and fans and it scares the record companies. I think they are going to do that and way more in the future, whatever they can in the future to try turn that around.

Do you think music has a chance to win out?
Music isn’t going anywhere. Record labels, the record industry changes all the time. Music doesn’t.

What’s the best place you have ever visited on tour or otherwise?
Probably Cuba. It’s got its fucked up parts to. None has come up with the perfect government. The fact that we can’t go there and it has such a beautiful culture. The fact that it was so hard to get over there I appreciated it a lot.

What do you think of the concept of cars?
New York has the subway public transportation but other places, like Michigan especially, have nothing. Other countries like in Europe have more trains but here were just inundated with cars, which ties into the consumerist society.

So are there just too many cars or is it a bad concept or what?
No I think cars are a great concept. Anything done in moderation in great, anything you abuse is bad for you. Carrots are great; carrots are good for your eyes. You eat too many carrots you are going to die. Cars are a great invention but now you have too many of them and now fuel is in the atmosphere and we all are going to die. Anything you abuse, no matter what it is, it’s fucked up. It’s not the thing itself; it’s the act of abusing it.

Do you think hip hop is a political movement?
It seems when other artists, like Rage Against the Machine, get political they are immediately labeled hip hop. Well, Zac De La Rocha was rapping. But you know, I mean with groups like System of a Down, or even what Tom Morrello is doing with Audioslave, they are looked at as that type of group.

What’s your motivation when you wake up in the morning to be like I’m going to do music?

To please myself. The realist music is the music where the artist is being real with himself and not really caring about the fans and anything else. That’s what a true fan wants is for an artist to be true to himself so he can relate to the artist. If an artist is doing music for the fans and giving the fans what he wants, than the fans see through that. They say he’s just going through the motions. He’s just giving us what we want. And it becomes boring. Then they move onto an artist who is more exciting. An artist who challenges them. I do it not to get the message across.

I do it to please myself. God willing, people can relate to it and I can make a living off of it. But that’s in god’s hands. I’m doing it for myself because if I do it because I want to get a message out or I’m doing it because I want to get platinum rims or if I do it for any reason. Whether I do it for a monetary reason or because I’m trying to get a message out and be a teacher. All that is outer, that has nothing to do with art and that cheats the art. When you see an artist and you can tell he is trying to get a message out, it lessens your enjoyment of the music. The music has got to be pure. The best message music, if you are some one who wants someone to listen to a song the best thing you can say is that it sounds good. Not, oh it’s political or it has a great message that is boring.

It sounds good and it’s got a good message?

That’s the shit. It has got to sound good first. Otherwise it’s just defeating the purpose because it makes it very easy for people to go ‘I don’t want to listen to that shit. I want something that makes me want to shake my ass.’ So if you have something that has a message and makes you want to shake your ass then you got a winner.

Does anything make you angry? Do stupid things make you angry?
You can’t get angry at stupid shit. Then that would make you stupid.

What are three things people can do to make themselves better human beings?
Travel the world. Listen to all types of different music and have children.

What do you think of MTV?
MTV is a corporation like any other media corporation and as an idea it is a great idea.

Do you think visual elements are going to have to become more important in order to encourage people to buy CDs? I mean MTV doesn’t even play music videos anymore do they?

You are asking a lot of TV. TV was designed to sell people things like soap. TV shows are meant to keep you entertained between commercials. That’s why there is only so much you can expect from a TV show. That’s why there is no solution that can ever come from a TV talk show. Because you have to go to commercial. It’s not about coming up with a solution. IT can be used for that. That’s what public television tried to do but they have to stop the show in the middle of it and beg you for money. SO you have to look at things for what they are. TV is a great medium and that’s what it is. A tool. It’s not revolutionary with in itself and it is never going to be. You can use it to your advantage.

What about the BBC, where television is meant more to educate. Do you think America would benefit from a system like that?
No, the whole point of the BBC is to sell shit. English people, as far as the educational system in England is more sophisticated than the educational system here. So they can get away with it as bad as they get away with it here. TV was an invention to sell people shit. That is what it was invented for, to find ways to sell people shit. You can’t get away with shit as easily in the UK. Tony Blair can get away with the shit that George Bush can get away with. That’s why they are calling for his head. He’ll still try it. He’ll find a covert way to try and do it, but he ain’t going to get away as quickly.

What can be done about America?
America is like TV it is a medium. We have a lot of resources, a lot of land, space, not really. But American children grow up with more resources than anybody in the world and it’s our job to utilize the resources to make the world better not to make the world a worse place. We can do it but the only way we can do it is if we see it for what it is. If we think it’s some land of the free, home of the brave, that’s some bullshit. If we think it is some evil capitalist monster and everyone there is evil that’s realistic either. We just have to look at what it is and work within what it is.

Do you have any words of wisdom in general?
Don’t eat the yellow snow.

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