WW: You’ve been making influential music for over a decade now. What continues to motivate you?
Talib Kweli:Doing shows, definitely. That’s a great motivator. Always being able to develop to new audiences who have never heard of you or your music, that makes it exciting to me.
I’ve heard you talk about the ceiling, being with Warner Bros., and how if they were ever really opposed to anything you were doing, they wouldn’t put it out.
Yeah, that’s definitely true. If I ever did anything that they were really, really opposed to, they wouldn’t be obligated to put it out there. But the beauty of maintaining who I am as an artist and not having to have a radio single crack before introducing the new things that I do, is that people already know what to expect from me—and they know what not to expect from me. They know I’m not just going to do the random radio single and that there might be some politics in my music—although I don’t call myself a political artist as much as other people call me a political artist.
What do you think it will take this year for our youth, particularly black youth, to get out and vote?
It seems like [voter registration’s] going up, but the idea you can just tell people to vote, ‘You have the right to vote, just vote and vote for whoever,’ I don’t agree with that. You have to vote for someone you’re supporting. If you’re voting just because you have the right, you’re just as dangerous as someone who’s not voting. I think Barack Obama, his candidacy, his grassroots approach, has mobilized a lot of black people and white people. As a black man, especially one with a funny-sounding West African name, I am very proud of Barack. I would be lying to you if I told you I wasn’t happy he’s so dope and a black man. But included with and on top of the fact that he’s such a strong black man, he is also, without a doubt, the best candidate. So when I tell people I support him—and I don’t even agree with everything, I agree with Cynthia McKinney of the Green Party a lot more than I agree with Barack Obama—but the level of playing field that they’re playing on, presidential politics?! When it comes to that, I don’t think someone like Cynthia McKinney has a chance to win that election, therefore she doesn’t have a chance to effect the change in that arena. I think Barack Obama has a chance to win, I think he has the chance to effect some type of change, and it might be a compromised vision, but it’ll be a lot closer to the vision that I’ve had for my children than anything I’ve seen in my life.
SEE IT: Talib Kweli plays alongside David Banner and Little Brother at the Roseland Theater on Friday, Oct. 3. 9 pm. $30 advance, $35 day of show. All ages. See LocalCut for extended Q&A, where Talib talks about kids these days and gentrification.