Talib Kweli Releases Ambitious New CD

Talib Kweli at Rock the Bells Festival
GETTY IMAGES/Bryan Bedder
This story was written and reported by The ShowBuzz's Caitlin Johnson.

Rapper Talib Kweli was performing at the Rock the Bells hip-hop festival when suddenly he saw a bottle of urine hurtling through the air. It disgusted him so much he stopped mid song to chastise the unknown culprit among the mass of hipster kids in the audience at Randall's Island in Manhattan.

Minutes later, he was freestyling about it to the song he did with rapper/producer Kanye West, "Get 'Em High." I know you love me so much that you don't want to leave me, he said, but please use the Port-o-Potty; or something to that effect.

Talib Kweli is one of hip hop's most respected figures who are on the Rock the Bells bill, chosen, said promoter Chang Weisberg, for their artistic integrity and their cultural contributions.


Photos: Rock the Bells
Those who know consider Kweli, 31, of Brooklyn, NY., to be amongst the most deft emcees at making his music fun, but also socially relevant. His much anticipated sixth album, "Ear Drum," off his new label Blacksmith, is full of what he says are songs that will connect to his listeners' reality.

"I try to write songs that directly relate to people's lives in a social way," he told The ShowBuzz. "That's what I always try to do. It's not about preaching and saying you should do this, you should do that. It's about replicating a vivid and accurate picture of what people are going through. And providing the balance that that you don't hear on a lot of popular songs. Because sometimes people celebrate a certain lifestyle and you don't hear about the downside."

Kweli's past hits have certainly illuminated the dark side. "Get By" off his album "Quality" talks about the reality of living in the hood where crack and crime are prominent, but the first single off "Ear Drum," focuses on Kweli's other major muses: women.

"Girls and love is one of my chief inspirations — they're just so inspirational," he said. "You could write about women forever … that's why it's the first single, it's hot outside, women are walking around."

The album, which deals with religious and social themes, also features unique collaborations. Norah Jones sings the refrain on "Soon a New Day" and Justin Timberlake is featured on the bonus track. It's an interesting partnership that wouldn't have made sense only a few years ago when Timberlake was still singing with 'N Sync.

"There's a lot of things that's different," Kweli said. "Not to say that — people just become what they are inside, they should as artists. I feel like Justin's done that. I hope I have done that as an artist. I think he's very talented, and I learned a lot about being instrumental, sonically, about writing. Learned a lot."

Kweli said he is also working on Blacksmith TV, but is not sure if it will be a reality show or a documentary. He just wants to show how the artists on his label such as rappers Strong Arm Steady and Jean Grae function as artists. He can also be seen on 15 of Rock the Bells' dates. Look for "Ear Drum" in stores Aug. 21.