Black Star’s Talib Kweli & Yasiin Bey Define What Hip-Hop Means To Them Today (Audio)
Celebrating 20 years since their landmark album, Yasiin Bey (fka Mos Def) and Talib Kweli have been busy taking their show on the road. On Saturday (July 14), the pair rocked the hometown stage at the 2018 Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival. The day before (July 13), the former Rawkus Records act played the Taste Of Chicago festival. According to Brooklyn Vegan, the duo did not perform any new material—despite recent reports of new music in the works, some involving West Coast contemporary Madlib.
While in Chi, Ed Lover spoke to Talib and Yasiin for his podcast. The iconic TV and radio personality caught the pair while he walked around backstage, narrating his thoughts. At 21:00, he catches mighty Mos while the MC is getting his hair cut before taking the stage. Moments later, Mr. C’Mon Son interviews Kweli. Ed asks both men—who made significant noise 20 years ago with video single “Definition” (and “Re: Definition”)—to define what Hip-Hop means to them.
At 21:50, Yasiin replies, “Wow, that’s a pretty big question. Well, put it like this: when I was growing up, I remember being about seven, eight years old, I spent the summer in the Bronx staying with some friends of my mom’s. A couple of them were staff at [famed 1970s and 1980s Hip-Hop nightclub] The Fever. So one of my earliest and brightest childhood memories was going on a bus ride to [Six Flags] Great Adventure with The Fever staff. Me and my brother, [Medina Green], had matching black denim Lee suits. So we were very excited. We were like, ‘this is worth it [in the summer heat].'”
Explaining his anecdote, the MC says, “For me, [Hip-Hop] means everything familiar and homegrown. I don’t know how other people got it. It’s interesting. I was just talking to my man about this: most people may have got [Hip-Hop] on a mixtape or through the mail or [another way]. But me and a lot of people who grew up in that era with me got it outside the window, outside the doorstep. I never had any inkling that it would be our career path. There was no way that when I was in school that I thought I’d be doing it for a living, like what Slick Rick was doing. It’s crazy. I guess that question…what’s called ‘Hip-Hop’ and what we were doing are two different things, but [the culture] is like a family member—anything homegrown and dear.”
He likens Hip-Hop to family or “a cherished friend.” Bey then recalls, “I grew up in a world where [Hip-Hop] was the lingua franca. That was it; it was just the language that was spoken. It literally is the native tongue: the language that I spoke to the people closest to me.” On 1999’s “Hip Hop,” Mos notably spit: “Young man, where you from? Brooklyn number one! / Native son, speaking in the native tongue.”
Moments later (27:00), Lover asks Talib the same question. “Hip-Hop means freedom, honesty, and opportunity. That’s what it means to me,” says the MC who recently released Radio Silence. “[I say ‘honesty’] because you really don’t get successful in Hip-Hop unless you stay true to yourself. Like the Hip-Hop aesthetic—at least the one that I grew up on—was originality. We were just talking about clothing and how people might not like André 3000’s clothes, but nobody can front on him when it comes to that Hip-Hop. For me, Hip-Hop has made me more honest with myself. My name is Talib Kweli; my Rap name is Talib Kweli. So on that stage, I gotta be my best self. If I try to be another artist, that’s when I start to fall off or fail.”
Moments later, he adds, “I feel like the best Hip-Hop artists are speaking from within. That’s what you want. You want your favorite Hip-Hop artist to be honest with himself. Fans are seductive. They’ll tell you, ‘Oh, do an album just like last time,’ or ‘Do a hit record with this guy’…but when you do that, they get bored, and they don’t feel challenged by you anymore, and they move on to the next hot thing.”
In the brief interview, Yasiin states that Run-D.M.C.’s “It’s Like That” and Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force’s “Planet Rock” inspired him to MC.
#BonusBeat: Ambrosia For Heads was on-hand this year where Talib Kweli discussed the impact of Madvillain’s Madvillainy on Hip-Hop: