Talib Kweli Talks the Importance of ‘Radio Silence’ and Combating Injustice Online and Behind the Mic

Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli has been a member of the conscious hip-hop movement since he first gained recognition alongside Mos Def with their duo Black Star in the late-90s. Since then, Kweli has set off on a prolific solo career all the while sticking to the political and social roots in his music, the storied discography of which has now culminated in the release “Radio Silence.” Out Nov. 17, the eighth solo album from Kweli features call-outs on some of the most important issues of the modern era. One listen to tracks like “All of Us” or “She’s My Hero” will have any listeners delving into the lyrics for nuggets of wisdom on race and culture from the 42-year-old rapper.

As his new album sinks into the zeitgeist, Kweli took some time to talk with Entertainment Voice about the record; from the significance of some of the most insightful tracks to the fresh sound of his live band.

Your new album “Radio Silence” is a mixed bag of hip-hop sounds, from 90’s era beats to R&B and trap. Will you touch on the overall sonic direction you took for the new album?

I was looking for something warm and lush. I rock with a band often these days, so I was trying to create tracks that would allow the band to have more fun on stage while we rocked them.

You said in a recent interview that “nostalgia is very powerful when it comes to music.” Did you have that thought in the back of your mind when production began on “Radio Silence?”

For Radio Silence, I wasn’t thinking about nostalgia, I was thinking about the future. What will music fans revisit in the future? How can I maintain the lessons of the past while pushing musical boundaries into the future? God willing, this album will be nostalgic for someone 20 years from now though.

You have a number of featured rappers on the album, some newcomers, some veterans. What strikes you most about the difference between the new school artists like Anderson .Paak and BJ the Chicago Kid compared to the old school rappers such as Rick Ross and Jay Electronica?

Rick Ross and Jay Elec don’t seem old school to me, but they do have more industry experience than Anderson .Paak and Kaytranada. Every artist brings something different, and I let the tracks decide what the features will be.

It’s no surprise that there are a number of tracks on the album that cut pretty deep, like She’s My Hero” and “Heads Up Eyes Open.” Do you find that songs like these carry more meaning in a time where there are so many divisive issues in our country?

There is nothing wrong with making empty songs that are about nothing but the music that stands the test of time is music that deals with community and speaks to social issues.

Similarly, do you find your tongue even sharper nowadays? That it maybe has more effect in the modern-era, say compared to your come up in 90s?

I know I’m sharper. I’m better at this, more experienced. Fans romanticize the earlier work, because of nostalgia, but make no mistake I’m coming harder lyrically right now than I ever have. 

All Of Us” has you and Jay trading some pretty prolific verses on race, politics and police brutality. What can you tell us about this song in particular?

“All Of Us” is becoming one of my favorite songs I’ve ever done. It was recorded in a hotel in Chicago right before I left for Ferguson, and Jay is special on it. Yummy sounds great on it too. This was one of the first songs recorded for Radio Silence and it definitely set the mood.

Outside of music, you’re very active on social media when it comes to major issues in America like those mentioned in “All Of Us.” What do you find most challenging and rewarding about social media activism?

I love connecting with fans but even more so I love using my platform to combat injustice. I speak through these haters and racists, not to them. And, I provide a voice and info for people who may not have either.

In late January, you and your band are celebrating the 15th anniversary of “Quality” by performing eight back-to-back shows at NYC’s legendary Blue Note Jazz Club. What are you looking forward to most with this run of shows?

We’ve already done some of these “Quality” shows at Blue Note and it’s a great time with an intimate crowd. I like revisiting those older songs I haven’t performed in a while and it’s great to know how much that album still means to people.

Do you have any tour plans in the works in support of “Radio Silence?”

Yes, I will be hitting the road end of winter for Radio Silence.

Radio Silence is available Nov. 17 on Apple Music. Talib Kweli and his band will perform eight back-to-back shows Jan. 25-28 for the 15th anniversary of “Quality” at NYCs The Blue Note.