Recap: Talib Kweli Keynote at Berklee Business of Hip Hop Symposium

talib kweli BerkleeLyricists/Activist/Rapper Talib Kweli has recently come into the spotlight again for his now infamous interview with CNN reporter Don Lemon and his comments defending the most recent attacks on fellow lyricist Lauryn Hill. Both of these incidents onlysolidified him a more than suitable candidate to be keynote at the recent Berklee College of Music’s 8th Annual Business of Hip Hop Symposium as his lenghthy career of cultural influence has already proven.

The symposium ran in interview form with Berklee professor (and profuse fan) Brian “Raydar” Ellis as the interviewer. Profuse may be an understatement as he professed that Kweli was not only the reason he married his wife (she stole a CD of his from her ex-boyfriend) he was also he reason he bonded with his father.

The talk including the Q & A and performances by the J Dilla Tribute band went well over time, so here are the some of the highlights:

On his name:

“I couldn’t think of a name flyer than my name.” He did try it out with the rapper name “Genesis”, but it felt too daunting and lasted for about a year. On the significance of his name, a son of two college professors who raised him in the 70’s a part of the rediscovery of our African roots his name Talib means prophet or student of Islam. And Kweli means truth and knowledge.

On his education:

He went to boarding school in Connecticut where most of the black students were either athletes from the inner city or international students. Through this experience he realized that e realized that “If you make yourself  indispensable and you role is necessary that the rules don’t really apply to you.” After his prep-school days he went onto college where his roomate was John Forté, he laughed at how being a roommate with a musician can be “John only attended school for like a month, but then he would just show up, and sometimes at the most inopportune times.” He only stayed in college himself for about a year.

The moment he decided to be an artist:

While in boarding school he found a way to sneak out, pillows made up to look like he was sleeping and everything, to go to the popular underground hip hop spot Toads where he saw an Ice Cube with Ice T show. On one side of the stage was a tomb stone that read RIP Easy E and on the other side of the stage that had a tombstone with Jerry Heller’s name on it and NWA. It just fascinated him that this black man was up there cussing everybody out, saying “F*ck the police” and nobody was doing  anything about it. He could say whatever he wanted. That’s when he know that was what he wanted to do to.

On his relationship with record labels both independent, large labels and going underground indie again:

He was brought into Rawkus records via John Forté. So he had to refute the idea that Rawkus was independent as it had a lof of financial backing from Fox New’s Murdoch. He feels very grateful for the opportunities that Rawkus afforded him, but wonders how much of his success was based on marketing dollars than his actual talent as he feels that he has grown a lot as an artist from the early days. He noted that he is not a rich man, but what he loves about where he is at now is the freedom. He can do what he wants to do when he wants to do it.

On the digital age of purchasing and distributing music:

He uses different mediums to distribute his music. He has distributed music to his fans earlier and then later put it on iTunes because how else would we be able to purchase it or know about it? He finds it interesting that “people will spend $500 on the Beatz by Dre head phones, but won’t pay $10 for the CD to listen to.” He feels tha fans don’t see the value in music and puts the onus on the fans as to how music is distributed.

On Ferguson (in response to an audience member question):

He chastised social media campaigns that are behind Ferguson by saying, “It’s never been devices that moved a moment. It is has always been flesh…bodies on the ground.” He was upset with CNN by the way that the way the coverage was going on, and it wasn’t the fact that Lemon didn’t know him necessarily, but that it felt like Lemon was just doing his job by interviewing “some rapper” but was not getting to know his real interest in Ferguson – not telling the whole story.

On his essay about Lauryn Hill in response to Stefan Schumacher’s article “It’s Finally Time to Stop Caring about Lauryn Hill”:

He broke it down by saying when you buy a concert ticket you are paying a venue in hopes that you have a good time, and that has really nothing to do with the artists. We may want to hear songs in a certain way or what have you, but the artist doesn’t have any obligation to play those songs the way that you want them to be played.  He says, “It may be inconvenient for us fans, but it doesn’t make her any less of an artist.” He wrote the essat because he felt that just because she isn’t doing things the way that her fans he didn’t like how Schumacher was portraying her. “Don’t dismiss her cultural relevance.”

The symposium was a great way for the community and the students of Berklee to come together and learn more about this culture that we call Hip Hop. It will be interesting to see who they bring next year. Stay tuned.


@TalibKweli in #Boston at Berkeley! Where is the lovely @itskvalentine atttt bruh? #Samples #Drake #HipHop #Influence

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