Talib Kweli is a Master MC, but a New Interview Praises his Business Smarts

As an MC, Talib Kweli is one of the most celebrated, his lyrical content being praised for its creativity and its frequent skew towards sociopolitical. As a performer, he is touted as one of the livest and most energetic. As an activist, he is hailed as one of the few artists who puts his proverbial money where his mouth is, raising money for good causes and partaking in political action. However, his accomplishments as a business man with great enough acumen to give him such longevity in the game is not acknowledged to the same degree. And it should be; after all, he has not only managed to remain relevant and adored, but his résumé has only flourished to include the titles of record label executive, writer, and entrepreneur. With that in mind, Hyperlush writer John Choi has published a detailed and nuanced look at Kweli’s rise from his days of working at a bookstore to becoming and Indie superstar, and the hard lessons he was forced to learn along the way.

“Hip Hop Artist Talib Kweli Reveals the Hard Truth About A Legendary Career” begins with Kweli’s days in high school, an era during which he would meet some of the most important influences in his then-nascent career. “I was blessed to hang with the artistic community in Washington Square Park with Busta Rhymes, Super Natural, Mos Def, Dave Chappelle and John Forte,” he says. “Without that community pushing me, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. Community is very important.” Out of such a community Black Star was birthed, and the duo earned the embrace of the most serious of Hip-Hop fans, but also the more casual listener, thanks to their eponymous debut album performing well on Billboard charts. The two friends maintained their hustle by launching a small business, namely the now defunct Nkiru Books, once the oldest African-American owned bookstore in Brooklyn. Even back then, Kweli’s predilection for his community shined through, and although the bookstore didn’t perform well, it was eventually turned into a community center and non-profit. As Kweli shares, “We weren’t entrepreneurs and we didn’t know that business. We didn’t run it into the ground but we didn’t revive it.”

nkiru books

With that lesson in tow, Kweli continued on his music career with unmatched consistency, releasing more than a dozen albums and working with top names along the way. While his visibility spiked thanks to 2003’s “Get By,” the toiling throughout the years has not always translated into financial security for the stalwart, and the resulting frustration is palpable. However, always the positive-minded hustler, Kweli has always found a way to maintain focus on the bigger picture, using his earnings from record sales and tours to plant tomorrow’s fruitful seeds. “The money is used to pay bills, pay for kids whatever they need, for my record label. My label is not a money-making enterprise at this juncture but it will make money in a year or two. I’m learning everyday on how to be better at it,” he tells Choi. That’s not to say that Kweli is focused primarily on making tons of loot, necessarily. Having released the aptly titled EP Fuck the Money for free earlier this year, it’s evident he has learned an important lesson about the industry he’s chosen. As he explains it, “There is no money in the biz. Money is in the fame, the celebrity and being known. But there’s no money in selling music at all.”

And so, today’s Talib Kweli has become a modern-day Jack of All Trades, proving several times over he’s got the rap shit down. Now, he’s got his Javotti Media indie label to run, the promotion of his new Indie 500 collective, his online marketplace KweliClub.com, and of course the most important component of surviving in today’s digital marketplace: fan interaction. “That’s my hustle,” he says of engaging his fan base online. “How do I get my fans to look at me the same way they look at iTunes and become a reliable source for you to come spend your money?” His fluency in social media is one of the nicest in the game, and he can often be seen engaging fans (and perhaps more often detractors) in engaging discussions and politics and social justice, all of which is key to building his brand. “Social media doesn’t translate into sales but it translates to exposure. Which creates other opportunities,” he explains. But, when it comes down to it, he kicks the realest knowledge when it comes to the music industry, which he warns is laced with thorns that have the potential to destroy opportunities for young, uninformed artists. He warns them to educate themselves on “he dishonesty when it comes to radio promotion and how the labels work” so that they can create opportunities for themselves to “have control and do it yourself.”

Read: “Hip Hop Artist Talib Kweli Reveals the Hard Truth About A Legendary Career” by Joh Choi at Hyperlush

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