What Do Cole & Kendrick’s Hair Have to Do With Progress? Talib Kweli Explains In A New Essay

With a long history of being socially and politically critical, not only in his lyrics but also outside of the studio, Brooklyn, New York MC Talib Kweli has shared his strong beliefs on a vast array of topics including racism, police brutality, and the prison industrial complex. In addition, he is also well known for his insightful commentary on music; recently, he penned “In Defense Of Ms. Hill,” a soulful plea to the critics of Lauryn Hill in which he asks them to accept her artistry for what it is, and not for what they feel is owed to them.


Today (June 30), Kweli has shared some new insight on all of the aforementioned – social justice issues and the state of Hip-Hop – for Mic in an essay titled “From Ferguson to Freedom: Hip-Hop’s Role.” As part of its “Pass the Mic” series, the essay reveals Talib’s thoughts on the recent occurrences in America’s socio-political climate, like the Charleston, South Carolina church massacre and the far-too-frequent loss of Black life at the hands of the police. However, he approaches the issues within the framework of Hip-Hop, and what the culture can do to implement change and progress.

“How do we move forward, and what can hip-hop do?,” he asks. “One of the most important things artists can do to be a part of the solution is to remove the false division that exists between themselves and the community, and instead view themselves as simply members of their community, members with a large platform.” As an example, he cites Young Thug’s controversial comment that came across as dismissive of the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, and its cause. ” I don’t think he really understands how foul and whack he’s sounding,” Kweli writes. “His comments are justified in his mind because that’s how a lot of people his age feel. Some just don’t have the information. But those who know better do better.”

However, he does see a change on the horizon for current music. “There seems to be a niche shift in hip-hop, in which popular artists are moving away from making songs about materialism and moving towards making songs that are more introspective,” he writes. He mentions J. Cole, who visited Ferguson himself before writing “Be Free (A Tribute to Michael Brown),” a heart-wrenching ode laced with the cracking of a voice drowned in sorrow. Comparing J. Cole’s actions to Young Thug’s, he writes: “There are two different perspectives going on here. But at least the Young Thugs of the world are forced to deal with the issues in their interviews. That’s a new thing.”

Kendrick Lamar also gets a shout-out when Kweli remarks on the seemingly inconsequential things happening in Hip-Hop. “I do think the music has a subject matter and a content that’s becoming a bit more honest. I’m thinking about small things, like even in the hair choices that artists like Kendrick and J. Cole are making. ”

For Kweli, it seems to be that it’s up to the Hip-Hop generation of today to write history, using the incredible power at their disposal for the promotion of well-being and unity. How they can do that, most powerfully, is through music. In the words of Talib Kweli, “Will they challenge the inner workings of the music industry? Will they change the content of their music?”

Read the full essay here.

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