Talib Kweli heads to Tallahassee to join Dream Defenders, talks social justice in hip-hop
Talib Kweli, who is known for being a politically conscious rapper, will travel to Tallahassee to spend a night in the capital building with the Dream Defenders on Thursday.
The Dream Defenders are a group of students that have staged a sit-in at the Florida governor’s office to protest the state’s Stand Your Ground laws.
The protest began on July 15th, and now Kweli is joining the list of high-profile allies to the cause such as Reverends Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and others.
Kweli was inspired by singer-songwriter Harry Belafonte to support the protest that began after the not guilty verdict was announced in the George Zimmerman trial.
Belafonte called a meeting of like-minded artists on June 10th to discuss social issues, which Kweli attended. The two have had multiple conversations since about what activism looked like in an older generation as opposed to what it looks like now, and the Dream Defenders were an example in many of those conversations.
Kweli follows the leaders of the Dream Defenders on Twitter and asked what he could do as an artist to help the protestors and their movement.
“They said they really need people to come down and support them so I decided to try to make a trip,” said Talib Kweli.
On the Harry Belafonte, Jay Z discussion
Kweli also weighed in on the conflict between his fellow activist Harry Belafonte and his hip-hop contemporary Jay Z.
“I love Mr. Belafonte, I love Jay Z. I think it’s a shame that the cultural discussion that needs to be had has delved into this sort of almost name calling back and forth in the press,” Kweli told theGrio. “Harry Belafonte is obviously not going to make a diss record to answer Jay Z. I do think that Jay Z and Harry Belafonte are on the same page in more ways than they are on different pages.”
Last year, Belafonte called out Jay Z and wife Beyonce for “turning their backs on social responsibility” despite the fact that they are powerful and wealthy celebrities. This year the rapper responded by saying that he was offended by Belafonte’s accusations and claimed that his “presence is charity” in similar ways to President Obama.
Kweli took neither side of the debate, but said that people who are not invested in hip-hop may have a stake in the way rappers like Jay Z are represented.
“Jay Z is presented as this big rap star who doesn’t care about anything,” said Talib Kweli. “He is a capitalistic rapper… the way he is presented is like ‘I only care about me’. But if you’re a fan of his music you know it is way deeper than that, and you know that it is inaccurate to paint him like that.”
To be fair, Kweli said that Harry Belafonte has a historical position that enables him to criticize young people in the industry. The rapper suggested that sensitive inter-generational conversations like this one should be had outside of the spotlight.
Hip-hop’s responsibility to social justice
As an activist, Talib Kweli goes above and beyond his music to make social justice a priority. But, he doesn’t necessarily feel that all artists have a responsibility to be as conscious as he is. He said that music artists bear an unfair burden to use their music as a platform because they have the ability to influence more people. Kweli mentions that artists, just like their audience, fall victim to their upbringing.
“Just because an artists has a bigger platform doesn’t necessarily mean he knows what to do with it,” said Kweli. “I think we unfairly judge artists and expect them to know how to behave. ”
Personally, he was raised with a conviction to give back to his community. “My actions are my actions as a man, not my actions as a rapper,” he said.
When asked about what he feels artists should do with their power Kweli said, “The only thing that I expect from an artist is to give me art, that’s it.”
Talib Kweli, although conscious, is not considered a mainstream artist. Despite being different than the most popular artists, Kweli said that mainstream rap still has political elements, whether or not people choose to pay attention to them. He named Kanye West, Drake, Jay Z, Kendrick Lamar, J.Cole and Wale as some of the most popular artists in the game.
“None of these albums are devoid of political content, all of their work has it in there. The Watch the Throne album in particular spoke to issues in the black community. People just got so caught up in the celebrity of it and who these guys choose to marry, they are missing what they are doing artistically,” the rapper told theGrio.
Kweli urged people to ask hip-hop artists questions to engage them politically, but warns not to get frustrated if these men and women do not “give you what you want” in their replies.
Balancing political activism and personal pleasure
Many hip-hop artists that try to have conscious moments often come off contradictory when seen out in their downtime. Somehow advocating for justice in the legal system and popping bottles in the club have never sat well with critics of hip-hop personalities.
Talib Kweli is a prime example of this dichotomy. He admits that he will be going to Florida Thursday to participate in the protest, but his followers are just as likely to see him at a party the night after.
“If I don’t celebrate life there would be no reason to fight for it, for justice… We believe that hip-hop is all sex, money, murder, greed and that’s not even on a very mainstream level.”