Although he's a hip-hop legend, Talib Kweli has a humble demeanor.
That was apparent Tuesday night when he stopped by Spinster Records in Oak Cliff for a meet-and-greet session organized by producer J. Rhodes before Kweli's performance at Trees.
Those in attendance witnessed Kweli's humility in real time as he arrived and departed alone through the front door and used Uber as his transportation. Rapper 88 Killa, DJ Sober and artist Jeremy Biggers were among the 50 or so fans there to meet him. Kweli has forged a loyal following over two decades through his stellar lyricism and, in part, because of his down-to-earth persona.
After speaking one-on-one with fans, posing for pictures and signing autographs, Rhodes joined Kweli onstage by J. Rhodes for a conversation about Kweli's latest album, Radio Silence, and the evolution of his career.
“Radio Silence is my 16th album, and for my whole career, I’ve always been competitive, and I always wanted to have records on the radio and compete with other artists," Kweli said. "For the last few albums, I’ve been changing my focus to not compete so much with the industry but instead compete with myself.”
His new album is a product of that change in focus. Kweli says he doesn’t worry about industry trends or radio play because he’s been fortunate to build a career in which he can tour and make music on his own terms. He has a reputation for being ahead of the curve when it comes to recognizing hip-hop talent, and he says he believes his collaborative spirit fuels that instinct.
“I definitely see myself as a connector, which is why my first albums were me and Hi-Tek, me and Mos Def," Kweli says. "I did a thing with 9th Wonder and Styles P. I’m definitely interested in collaboration, so when I see a new artist like Kanye West [at the beginning of his career] or a Kendrick Lamar that people have credited me with being early on, it’s a selfish thing because they make what I do look better. I didn’t bring Kanye West on the road with me because I was doing him a favor; I brought him on the road because he earned that spot."
"For the last few albums, I’ve been changing my focus to not compete so much with the industry but instead compete with myself.” — Talib Kweli
Like many artists, Kweli says every album is unique when it comes to content and production. While Radio Silence took four years to record, other records have taken significantly shorter amounts of time. Liberation, he says, took a week to record, and Black Star took six to seven months.
Kweli says his plan was to not put anything out for a long time after Radio Silence, but Mos Def changed that.
"Then Mos Def is out here making announcements and shit," Kweli jokes, referring to Mos Def’s premature statement about his new album. "So you know we’ve been working on that, too.”
Kweli says the most important thing for any of his albums is for it to be organic. Before departing for his show at Trees, he told the crowd that after 20-plus years, his motivation for making music is still the same.
“Doing events like this is very inspirational, but when I started my career, I didn’t start it for fame, accolades and fans," he says. "I started from loving the music, and that has to be your motivation. Like Quincy Jones said, when you start doing it for money, that’s when God walks out the room.”