“The revolution’s here/No one can lead you off your path/You’ll try to change the world/So please excuse me while I laugh,” rapped Talib Kweli in the 2004 song “Beautiful Struggle.”
Thirteen years later, the United States has a new president, Republicans control Congress, and the nation is still reeling from a string of police killings of black men. Those revolutionary lyrics have never been more relevant for Kweli, a left-leaning activist who has long brought attention to social issues, racism and excessive force.
The rapper’s voice is generally soft and laid-back, but it can ignite in an instant. When he talks about Trump, Kweli burns.
“The key to dealing with Trump is honesty,” he says. “He is a fascist liar who won because people ignore fake news and let lies spread unchecked, falsely assuming that if you ignore a lie, it will disappear.”
To that end, he pleads with us to be “more honest with ourselves and our countrymen and women, and stop letting Trump and his goons” continue to disseminate such falsehoods.
Like many, the Brooklyn-based rapper was shocked when Trump won in November. “This isn’t a step backwards as much as a reminder of how far we still have to go,” he says. “We were spoiled by Obama. We couldn’t afford to be, obviously.”
Raised by university educators, Kweli came to the public’s attention in 1996, when he appeared on the album Doom, by Cleveland group Mood. In 2002 he saw his reputation blossom nationally with the release of his debut, Quality; since then, he’s built a career on incisive, intelligent lyrics gently spit over a backdrop of jazz and often trip-hop-infused beats.
In 2015, Kweli put out his Train of Thought: Lost Lyrics, Rare Releases & Beautiful B-Sides Vol. 1 and Fuck the Money albums, followed in 2016 by Awful People Are Great at Parties, a collaboration with other artists connected with his record label, Javotti Media. This year, he’ll release another collaboration album, The Seven, with rapper Styles P. One day, Kweli hopes to join creative forces with Icelandic singer Björk.
He’s been active in music for over twenty years now, and when asked how he has grown as an artist, Kweli says he’s stronger, wiser and more independent; he feels he’s gained control of how his music is received.
A new album, in the works and still unnamed, will drop shortly after the release of The Seven. In the meantime, we can enjoy Kweli’s numerous guest appearances, including a notable one on A Tribe Called Quest’s heralded comeback album, We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service, on the track “The Killing Season,” recorded just months after the death of original Tribe member Phife Dawg.
Kweli found himself hanging around Tribe Called Quest rapper Q-Tip “because I wanted him to produce a song on my next album. When I realized he was focused on the Tribe album, I stopped talking about my album and just showed up to watch, fascinated. At one point, I was asked to contribute. It was overwhelming, and a blessing. A dream come true. R.I.P., Phife Dawg.”
With two new projects on the way, there’s a lot to look forward to in 2017.
Kweli plays Denver on Sunday. “I love Denver,” he says. “I have good friends there. The fans there have been supporting me for years. The set will be hot shit.”
9 p.m. Sunday, January 29, Gothic Theatre, 3263 South Broadway, Englewood, 303-789-9206.
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