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The Show presents Talib Kweli and Jason Mraz

Maria Smith | Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Anyone who thinks hip-hop is all about cars, money and using women has obviously never heard Talib Kweli.Since “Black Star,” his first album with Mos Defwas released in 1998, the emcee has gained a reputation for conscientious rap about real life and real problems. In contrast to many popular hip-hop artists, Kweli talks about politics, poverty and family intelligently and poetically.Kweli may not have earned the radio time and bigger contracts of some of his more famous peers, but the difference is hardly due to the quality of his music. Like much of the best music of any genre, Kweli’s tracks have gained more respect than radio play.The artist hardly shuns the work of more popular rappers. “Get By,” one of his most famous tracks, uses a beat from Kanye West, a producer who has also worked with big name artists like Ludacris, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. Besides his album produced with Mos Def, Kweli has also worked with Jay-Z and Busta Rhymes. But for Kweli himself, saying what he wants to say seems to come a long way before making it onto 99.1 FM.In anticipation of tonight’s visit to the Notre Dame campus, Kweli spoke about his new release, coming out on Sept. 28, his past work and his opinion on current popular music.

What made you want to perform at a place like Notre Dame?They offered me money to come. I do colleges all the time, usually two or three a month.How does your new album compare with what you’ve done in the past?This album is a lot more focused on where the music took me. In the past I was more focused on making a complete album, and this time I was more focused on complete production.What are some of your favorite tracks from your past albums?”Memories Live” off of “Reflection Eternal” is one of them … “Get By” off “Quality” is one of my favorites. I like it because the same energy I put into making an album in the past, I put into making that song, and I’ve put into songs in the future.What are some of your favorites to watch for on your new album?”I Try” with Mary J. Blige, it’s produced by Kanye West. There’s another track called “Broken Glass” that I really like. “Beautiful Struggle” is the title track of the album. Those are my favorites.How do the themes on your new album compare with your old work?The themes are pretty much the same. The album is called “Beautiful Struggle,” and I stick pretty much to that. I mention my kids specifically on a song called “Black Pain.” I focus on people’s struggles instead of criticism. I’m trying to tell a story.A lot of hip-hop fans are part of a younger fan base, and hip-hop sometimes gets a bad rap for the kinds of messages some artists convey. Do you feel like some emcees cross the line in the kinds of things they say?I feel like an artist’s responsibility is to be honest with themselves, and if you’re doing that there is no line to cross. Sometimes your responsibilities as a human being and as an artist cross, in that case we have to make sure that adults listen to something and [give it some context]. That’s the responsibility of the parents and educators, not the artists. We live in a society that is very vulgar, and hip-hop talks about these things.So as your own kids get older, will you feel like you need to limit what they listen to?If it’s something that’s relevant to them, I’ll let them listen to it, even if it’s violent or vulgar. But I’ll give them a context for how to listen to it, not just drop it on them cold.What do you want to do through the kind of music you produce?I’m just trying to be myself and show that hip-hop is beautiful. You don’t have to try to be someone else. You can just be yourself and contribute to it.Who are some of the artists out there recording now who you like to listen to?Jill Scott has a new album out that’s beautiful, and Jadakis. … As far as what I’ve been listening to lately, some Anthony Hamilton and Ghostface. Ceelo just put out an incredible album.Are there any other projects you’re planning for the near future?I’m getting ready to do something with the Beastie Boys, and after that I’ll be working with Mos Def.Will this be another Black Star album?Eventually, yes.

Talib Kweli will perform tonight as co-headliner of The Show version 3.0. Tickets are available for $10 to Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross students only.