On July 14, Yasiin Bey and Talib Kweli headlined the annual Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival as Black Star. But before the pair took the stage for a performance celebrating the 20th anniversary of their album Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, they discussed what hip-hop means to them.
Speaking with TV and radio personality Ed Lover on his C’Mon Son podcast, the two rappers spoke on hip-hop separately, with Lover speaking with Bey first, followed by Kweli.
“For me, [Hip-Hop] means everything familiar and homegrown. I don’t know how other people got it. It’s interesting. I was just talking to my man about this: most people may have got [Hip-Hop] on a mixtape or through the mail or [another way]. But me and a lot of people who grew up in that era with me got it outside the window, outside the doorstep,” Bey explained. “I never had any inkling that it would be our career path. There was no way that when I was in school that I thought I’d be doing it for a living, like what Slick Rick was doing. It’s crazy. I guess that question…what’s called ‘Hip-Hop’ and what we were doing are two different things, but [the culture] is like a family member — anything homegrown and dear.”
“I grew up in a world where [Hip-Hop] was the lingua franca. That was it; it was just the language that was spoken. It literally is the native tongue: the language that I spoke to the people closest to me,” the rapper added.
While Bey’s answer speaks more to the culture of hip-hop, Kweli says that it’s the freedom and honesty of hip-hop that makes it what it is.
“[I say ‘honesty’] because you really don’t get successful in Hip-Hop unless you stay true to yourself. Like the Hip-Hop aesthetic — at least the one that I grew up on — was originality,” Kweli said. “We were just talking about clothing and how people might not like André 3000’s clothes, but nobody can front on him when it comes to that Hip-Hop. For me, Hip-Hop has made me more honest with myself. My name is Talib Kweli; my Rap name is Talib Kweli. So on that stage, I gotta be my best self. If I try to be another artist, that’s when I start to fall off or fail.”
“I feel like the best Hip-Hop artists are speaking from within. That’s what you want. You want your favorite Hip-Hop artist to be honest with himself,” he added. “Fans are seductive. They’ll tell you, ‘Oh, do an album just like last time,’ or ‘Do a hit record with this guy’…but when you do that, they get bored, and they don’t feel challenged by you anymore, and they move on to the next hot thing.”
Listen to the podcast in its entirety here.