Interview: Talib Kweli and K’Valentine
By Giancarlo Spero
Talib Kweli started his “Seven Tour” last Wednesday at Club Red – East Theatre in Mesa. COTMA reporter Giancarlo Spero caught up with Kweli and his fellow Javottie Media artist, K’Valentine, before their performance.
Giancarlo Spero: As an artist with a long career ahead of you, how do you see the genre evolving from here? What would you like to see happen in hip hop?
K’Valentine: I guess I would like to see real hip hop be more appreciated. Not to say that it isn’t, but it isn’t right now. I feel like it’s not. Then again, I can’t say that because you do have J. Cole selling and Kendrick. I just want to see people appreciate real hip hop artistry.
GS: What would you like to see improve about yourself in the coming years?
K’V: Man, I just want people to listen. You know what I mean? Just lend me your ear and you know the music will do everything else. The battle is just getting them to listen and be open to it. Once people hear the music that I make, you know I’m going to win. That’s how I feel. I have a forthcoming album. It’s going to be dropped in either February, early March. It’s called hip for a reason. Every track somebody’s going to be able to relate to every song on that album. I just need the people to get it and everything.
GS: What would you say to a young girl that just discovered your music and thinks that she wants to do what you do? What would you say to someone like that?
K’V: I would tell her to first and foremost stay true to yourself. Don’t let the outside influences or anything try to steer you from what you are at your core. Continue writing. Believe in yourself — I should have said that first.
That’s the most important thing you have. You must believe in yourself and keep going. There’s going to be challenges as an up and coming female in this male dominated industry, but just believe in yourself. Stay focused. Keep writing. Keep writing. Keep writing.
GS: I read something that you met Mia Angelo when you were younger and, because you were a writer doing poetry. I listened to your Breakfast at Tiffany’s release and you talk about a lot of really deep stuff, a lot of troubling stuff, but you use that to progress your career. What would you say to people that are dealing with hard stuff in their life and instead of thinking about turning into an art, they might think to something like crime or drugs. What would you say?
K’V: I would say, first pray. First pray.
You know, whatever god you believe in. Whether it’s Allah, God, Jesus, pray. You must have faith and just take comfort in knowing that if you’re still here, if you’re still alive, that means that you survived your worst days. You’re still here and it’s nobody in this. You’re not the only one. Anything you think you’re going through, or you’ve been through, somebody has gone through it and got over it.
GS: Your first album came out in 2011. It probably feels like a long time from now, but when it comes to developing an art and a craft, that takes an endless amount of years, so what’s it like to see your hard work finally starting to be more appreciated and coming up? How do you think you’ve improved since then 2011?
K’V: Well, to answer your first question, it feels good. It feels really good. Of course, as you get more you want more. Yeah I got this now, on to the next. You know I sometimes have to check myself and stop in the moment and just simmer and appreciate what’s going on and what’s happening around me. Right now, I feel good. Who gets the tour with Talib Kweli and Styles P?
I’ve gotten better lyrically and with more experiences, personal experiences, I’m able to incorporate that into my music. With my personal growth comes my creative growth. I’ve gotten quicker. It used to take me a week to write a song.
GS: What was it like working and touring with Talib? What have you learned so far? It has to be so much for a new artist to take in!
K’V: Yeah. It’s been a blessing working with him. I’ve learned a lot. He’s actually helped me to read even more. He’s an avid reader.
You know if you go to kweliclub.com you can get a huge selection of different books. Sometimes when I’m at his place in Brooklyn, I just take books off the shelf.
Just teaching me how important it is to establish relationships in this industry. You know, to stay true to myself and to keep it, be honest with the people.
GS: How do you think hip hop has had an impact in the past, and how do you think it’s going to continue to impact our culture?
Talib Kweli: Hip hop, unlike any other form of music, is directly related to a struggle of poor people of color, particularly people of color in the inner cities. Hip hop, by its inception, is struggle music. People don’t realize that because hip hop has gotten really flashy over the years, but if it’s not music that deals with the struggle, even if it’s music that deals with it in a way of saying, “I’ve made it out of the struggle; look how flashy I am,” then it’s not really hip hop.
GS: How do you see yourself as an artist developing in the coming years? Do you have any specific plans?
TK: I’m here to do this album with Styles and this tour with Styles, so I’m excited about that because it allows me to stretch my wings, but I spent a lot of time on the road. I want to change it so I’m spending less time on the road. I want to spend more time where the music is paying for itself, but right now the music industry is at a point where people don’t really buy music. They stream music. People pay for the live experience, which is how I make a living.
GS: Is that how you would tell fans to support artists? Going to shows and buying merchandise?
TK: No. I mean, yeah, I love that my fans do that. If I didn’t have fans that did that, I wouldn’t have a career, but I would love for them to go to KweliClub.com and buy my music, or iTunes and buy my music, so I can [expletive] just sit down and not have to show up. I love showing up, but I’ve been doing this for 20 years, for 200 days a year, so it’s time for me to sit down.
GS: Do you have any plans, not just as an artist, but as an activist?
TK: You can’t plan which cause you’re going to be involved, but in general activism is something that has informed my music and informed my life. I come from people who participate in activist things.
GS: How do you see that industry changing now that so many new artists have so many different options to fund themselves instead of taking the traditional label route?
TK: We see it already. What we see is that people become fans of artists, not because of stuff like some million dollar marketing scheme, but because of what the artist does himself. Kanye was sort of the beginning of that, even though he is a major label artist. In the last couple of Kanye albums, we didn’t get excited about them because anything Def Jam did. It’s because of what Kanye was doing.
Like going all the way back to where he had the promotion where he cut the things for New Slaves upon the sides of the building and [expletive].
People get excited about that. Chance the Rapper is an artist that is very exciting. I’ve been to the White House three times in my life. All three times, Chance the Rapper was there. He’s never sold an album. The fact that he could just put it out for free, and it can take him to the White House, it shows that the paradigm has changed.
GS: What advice would you give to new artists trying to get their foot in the door?
TK: Oh, [expletive]. They could give me some advice. As a legacy artist, the new ways that people listen to music, my fans aren’t there. My fans aren’t on SoundCloud or Spotify. [Expletive], a lot of my fans still want to listen to the radio and buy CDs. You know, people my age are not necessarily caught up with the new forms of getting music, so I take my cues from younger artists who are on these new platforms and see what they’re doing. That’s what I try to do.
GS: With the limitless amount of ways to discover music these days, how do you think the underground scene is going to change?
TK: I think it has changed. People my children’s age are more excited about artists that they discover on their own then they are about artists that were marketed to them. That’s completely flipped from when I was a teenager. When I was a teenager, if you weren’t on MTV people looked at you like, “What are you doing with your life. You might as well kill yourself.”
Now, it’s like, “You’re on MTV? I don’t know if I can trust that.”
GS: On your first album, you said, “I feel like pain is the only inspiration,” about the song with Res. How is what inspired you changed since then? Do you still draw from the same sources?
TK: That was a one-time lyric on a one moment on that song. That’s how I felt at that moment, but I wouldn’t say pain is the only inspiration. It’s a great inspiration. In that moment on that song when I was, “Where do we go from here?” That’s the “Where do we go” song, right? I guess I was talking about pain, just feeling in a place of pain. When you’re in that place of pain, you feel overwhelmed by it. You feel like it’s only world.