"Get Off That Label" Talib Kweli On How Prince Told Him To Go Independent
June 7, 2016 has been declared “Prince Day” by Minnesota’s Governor Mark Dayton to mark the poignant significance of the being that blessed this rock with his present. On what would have been Prince Rogers Nelson‘s 58th birthday, the proclamation from the governor’s office encouraged those who loved the funky “Beautiful One” to “wear purple in honor of his enduring legacy.” For Brooklyn’s own Talib Kweli, the declaration comes on the heels of his truly epic Twitter rant where he shared unbelievable stories about Prince after his passing. With every tweet, you just knew that they were true because of how awesome Prince was as a human being.
Whether it was talking about how Prince invented “reverse pimpin'” at the gentleman’s club or questioning Talib Kweli’s DJ skills, the Reflection Eternal rapper has had a storied relationship with “The Kid” and with each story, more and more of Prince Rogers Nelson’s cool and complex life comes more clearly into focus. A man who was deified as a sex symbol, shared his deep, devout Christian faith with the many luminaries in the entertainment business. More than a “raunchy singer” who blended the secular with the sanctified, Prince was a representation of black creativity that defied the then-laws of the industry.
From being one of the first artists of color to populate MTV to creating new and imaginative ways for artists to share their works with the audience (Musicology anyone?!) — Prince’s life was fueled by the worshipping of God, the spirit of generosity and the belief that one’s imagination can affect the real world. In our continuing celebration of #PrinceDay, Talib Kweli sits down with us to share never-before-heard stories about Prince, why he will always reign supreme and how he quietly benefitted the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Okayplayer: When was the first time that you heard Prince? What was your initial thought when you heard his music?
Talib Kweli: Prince was pretty ubiquitous in mainstream culture around 1983, 1984 and 1985. From what I know now, he was making his name in r&b and music circles before that time there, but he really blew up with his Purple Rain album. There were Prince records on the radio I heard, but my earliest memory was listening to him with my family. We used to go visit my mother and father’s friends that lived in the outskirts of Queens, New York, close to Long Island. I don’t recall their names but we used to go visit them often around the holidays.
It was Thanksgiving one year and they put on a Prince album after dinner. The entire family danced to all of the danceable songs off Purple Rain: “Baby, I’m A Star”; “I Would Die 4 U” and things like that. I remember the sheer joy of being 9, 10-years-old and dancing alongside my family with grandmothers, aunts, uncles and everybody just grooving to this one album. That’s a memory that I, as a musician, cherish and hold vivid. So many different generations were dancing to one man’s music, and I knew there was something naughty about the lyrics.
OKP: I hear you! It was the same for me growing up…
TK: Yeah, I knew there was something naughty going on, something dangerous. It was clear and present, but, you know, it was attracted to my spirit. Add to that that this was around the time when hip-hop is becoming deeply embedded and rooted in my DNA.
OKP: Did you find yourself crate-digging, attending shows and researching how Prince created certain sounds?
TK: Prince was pretty particular about his music, so there’s not a lot of samples that you can count from him. Even the people who sample Prince, you can count on one or two hands. You just didn’t get away with a Prince sample… Big Daddy Kane had one, Ice Cube had one, TLC redid “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” [And Nice & Smooth flipped “Starfish & Coffee” – ed.] but sampling Prince wasn’t something that people did. He was considered holy ground. Same thing with Michael [Jackson]. There weren’t too many Michael sounds floating around, you know what I’m saying?
As a rock star, as an icon, Prince was a part of the hip-hop culture as well. We all knew about Prince as one of the first black people on MTV. We embraced Prince as hip-hop very early, even though Prince didn’t embrace hip-hop like that. He really started embracing hip-hop around his New Power Generation days. There were a couple of rappers in the group, and Prince was doing his Prince-version of hip-hop. Because he was a musician, Prince was always a cut above and he was hyper-critical of hip-hop, but during that time he believed if people were going to do hip-hop then this would be the way I would do it.
OKP: Have you ever met Prince during the time he was active?