“We could have named it [Kwelity] and that was discussed, but to me that was too simple and too easy. I liked the idea that my name Kweli already phonetically sounded like ‘quality.’ I didn’t feel the need to drive the point home by spelling it like that. But I think it was good thing that people wanted to see it spelled that way.”
“What I remember is that album cover was shot in Tom’s Diner on Washington Ave. in Brooklyn. I believe it was the same diner from the famous song [by Suzanne Vega]. At that point in my life I must have been going to that diner every day. The artwork inside was everyone in my life who was responsible for helping me make that album. The only one who was in the photo shoot who wasn’t on the album is Hi-Tek. And the reason he was in the artwork, was we had just started hanging out again. So I said come to this photoshoot because you’re part of my journey.
David Bowie and Iman had an apartment on Broadway they used to rent out. We rented it out and had a big dinner there. Andrew Dosunmu, a Nigerian guy, he’s a film director now but he was a photographer back then. He took the photos. I’m not a fan of the graphic design of the album. It was real plain. I remember not being that happy with it, but we had to put something out. And back then I was wearing a lot of throwback clothes. I had on a Philadelphia 76ers hat, we took the logo off for the final product. I had on a big ass, Philadelphia jacket. An oversized Mitchell & Ness. Aesthetically I don’t feel like the album cover matches where I was at musically, but we had to have something for the cover.”
“Dave was just freestyling. That was complete freestyle. I think maybe those were jokes that were floating in his head. Michael Rappaport is on there playing a character. The stories he’s talking about are things that I actually heard Russell Simmons say. I had gone to a meeting that Russell Simmons was having and he had mistaken me for Jinx The Juvenile’s manager. So he brought me into this meeting with Jinx thinking I was his manager, and he said all this wild shit that was NOT for me. So Rappaport was saying things based on things I told him I heard Russell Simmons say.”
“The first single was “Good To You”. The album was done and every song was done except for “Waiting For the DJ” and “Get By”. So imagine that album without those two songs, that’s the album I handed in.
I was so impressed with what Kanye [West] was doing I felt that “Good To You” was a huge hit record [but] Rawkus disagreed with me. I don’t think they saw the vision with Kanye. I remember the conversation was, ‘It’s a good mix show record, but that’s about it.’ I bitched and moaned and threw a fit in the office until they put it out. But they put it out just to appease me, which is what I learned later. They pressed up some vinyl and we did a photoshoot. They put it out but they didn’t support it at all, because they didn’t care about it. They were working with Dahoud [Darien] the guy who produced “Waiting For The DJ”. Brian Brater from Rawkus was very, very impressed with this guy’s production. And this was the era when they had Kool G. Rap working with Jagged Edge. Their whole thing was ‘We need a record that’s going to work on the radio.’ So something with a singing hook, they were all for it.
They had the beat and it had a sample of Bilal singing, because the producer had worked with him before. So [at first] I reluctantly recorded that song at Rawkus’s request. But when I recorded it I kinda liked it. I said if we can get Bilal really on it, I’ll rock with it. So we got Bilal and they lost their mind saying this is great. I thought it was a good song, but I didn’t think it was a better song than “Good To You”.
After that is when I recorded “Get By”. And when I recorded “Get By,” I said THIS is the song. This is a single. Again, they said, ‘Eh, this is good, but it’s a mix show record.’ They were really all about “Waiting For the DJ”. So we dropped “Waiting For The DJ.” I’m about 10 years away from blowing everybody’s spots up, so I’m not gonna say the names yet. But there was a DJ in L.A. who had a lot of power on the radio and back then you needed certain guys. You needed Funk Flex in N.Y., you needed Khaled in Miami, etc. And Rawkus was heavily focused on the L.A. market, and this guy was saying that Bilal looked too “gay” in the video. You have to remember this was when DJs were on the air saying “pause” and “no homo” all the time. This is that era. Hip-hop is a lot more tolerant these days, but back then, especially with the DJs, it was a very testosterone driven culture. And if you watch that video Bilal was very free. He wasn’t caring and people thought it was weird. And I remember being on a conference call with a bunch of DJs and they were all saying that and I remember thinking we have a lot more work to do in this industry. That was one example of pushback I got with the record.
I just performed “Waiting For The DJ” at The Blue Note and it’s still a fan favorite. As I relearned the words I’m like man, this song is such an accurate picture of where my mentality was at. Every lyric on that song was something I was doing at the time. I was in the club every night. And that song was about me and my friends leaving Brooklyn going to a nightclub and meeting girls. Me being a DJ now I understand sonics a lot better and what moves a crowd.”
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