Class is now in session

Eryn GreenAsst. News Editor

Interview by Foster KamerA & E Editor

Talib Kweli is the professor you wish you had. Under the lyricist’s instruction, Introduction to Music Theory would be taught with a microphone instead of a chalkboard. Guest speakers would be notorious emcees like Mos Def and Common instead of stodgy academics lacking rhythm.

But wait, what’s that you say? A high-profile emcee like Kweli would never teach class? Too far-fetched?

Think again.

Although Kweli has three of the most respected albums in hip-hop to his name and a new one on the way, make no mistake about it-Kweli is an educator.

Prior to his phenomenal live show at Park City’s Club Suede last Wednesday, May 19, The Daily Utah Chronicle caught up with the artist for a private schooling in Kweli 101.

“I think there’s still a lot of confusion, there’s still a lot of learning to do,” Kweli said. “I mean, it’s very easy to say, ‘Well, this is what’s wrong with society and this is bad and everything,’ [but] I try to say what’s good because I feel like that really creates the solution and cements the solution in place…The things that are going to solve the problems in our communities are focusing on self-esteem, self-worth and self-value.”

Kweli’s infectious positivity was more than evident in his performance last Wednesday.

From the beginning of his set, Kweli paced the stage in front of 400 fans (probably the smallest crowd he’s played for in some time), enlightening and entertaining his captive audience.

Kweli’s brand of intellectual, socially aware hip-hop resonated among those in attendance.

Although Kweli’s opening act-underground sensation MF Doom-posseses a bona fide otherworldly lyrical ability, his set was too short and the crowd was too unfamiliar with his material to get excited.

However, generating excitement in his Park City class was no problem for Kweli.

He played tracks from many of his illustrious collaborations as well as his solo albums, much to the delight of Suede’s patrons.

Included in Kweli’s set were cuts from his Black Star collaboration with Mos Def, several tracks off of Reflection Eternal and new material from his forthcoming Geffen Records’ release, The Beautiful Struggle.

Kweli’s ability to generate excitement in the crowd may have something to do with his sense artistic duty.

“I have to be responsible for myself,” Kweli said. “I can’t put anything in the atmosphere…that I can’t stand behind or support…When artists [stop being] honest with themselves, it’s no longer a challenge for the listener, and I always want to challenge my listeners.”

Many of the beats on Kweli’s new album come from some of the most sought-after names in hip-hop today, including Roc-A-Fella Records’ newest addition, Kanye West.

With all the support Kweli gets from his fellow artists and all the praise he receives from critics, it seems like the artist has little to struggle with these days.

Kweli, however, feels differently.

“Being a black man in America is a struggle within itself,” Kweli said. “But I’ve got professional struggles with my record label, [too]. You know, struggling every day on the grind. I already grind, and that’s a struggle.”

Still, Kweli’s struggle isn’t merely his own. On his forthcoming release, Kweli promises to take his personal struggle and make it accessible to the masses.

“The Beautiful Struggle is the name of my new album, but more importantly, it’s the struggle that anybody goes through,” Kweli said.

“The struggle is so hard that [people] wouldn’t be able to appreciate it unless they had something to celebrate. It’s the idea of being able to celebrate so you can appreciate the struggle, and struggle so you appreciate the celebration.”

Without question, those in attendance at Kweli’s Club Suede performance were made to appreciate the celebration.

Kweli’s set went so well-the crowd’s response to his every rhyme was so overwhelming-that even after he had satisfied the expectations of the most skeptical attendees with funk revivals and soul breakdowns, he threw an after-party…and everyone was invited.

After Kweli played for more than an hour to a hyped crowd in Club Suede’s airy, open main stage area, he emceed over records like The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy,” and Jay Z’s “99 Problems,” spun by Kweli’s own tour DJ.

While such efforts in fan inclusion are the exception, rather than the rule for hip-hop shows-many rappers have a more exclusionary rock star mentality than do most actual rock stars-Kweli was at home in the crowd, mingling with those who came to see him.

When Kweli reflects on his life today, this level of comfort and willingness to spread joy becomes understandable.

“I’m blessed, you know,” Kweli said. “I love music and I do it for a living. I’ve got a wonderful family…I have a lot to celebrate.”

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