By Paul Russell
1/11/2003 1:02:51 AM
Tags and topics realted to this article include Talib Kweli.
If you don't believe everything is political, then you haven't had a conversation with Talib Kweli.
Now, it's rare to hear the word "midwives" in a hip-hop jam, particularly in these times when the cash-rules-everything-around-me mentality reigns supreme and politics has taken a back seat to partying. But Kweli drops the word in "Joy," a sweet tale about birth in which the excitement in his voice is apparent, and it resonated loudly with me because my son Elijah came into this world with the help of three wonderful midwives.
I was curious to compare notes with Kweli, who has two kids, and should've expected that the word "midwife" would set him off.
"I don't know how it is in Canada, but the health-care system in America sucks," he says from his home in New York. "People grow up being told, 'You can be a doctor or a lawyer,' not because they can help people, but because doctors and lawyers make the most money. And the reason they make the most money is because the system is corrupt and they can get paid by lying to people about what's healthy for them."
Kweli says neither he nor his wife, Darcel, knew about midwives because, like most expectant parents, they were brainwashed into believing that "what midwives do is voodoo and that if you don't go to the hospital, you're committing some kind of sin.
"We were at a very progressive hospital for my son's birth, and they had midwives there, but they were still at the mercy of the doctors," he says. "We decided to take a chance and go with a midwife for our second child and not deal with doctors and hospitals, and we learned so much about what hospitals were doing wrong. The experience -- the labour, everything -- was 100 per cent more pleasant for my wife than it was when we used a hospital."
When you're blessed with a name that literally translates to "seeker of truth and knowledge," you've gotta deliver nothing less than literate, cerebral rhymes, and on Quality, his major label debut, Kweli hits us with what we've come to expect from him every time he picks up a microphone.
For Quality, Kweli rolled with producers DJ Quik, DJ Scratch, Soulquarians, Megahertz and Kanye West (though not past collaborator Hi-Tek), and guest MCs include Black Thought, Pharoahe Monch, Mos Def and Cocoa Brovaz. But don't be alarmed by the overabundance of guests. Quality still bumps, and Kweli's at his thought-provoking best here, especially on "The Proud."
As Kweli has said time and again, "I will never do a record without some sense of responsibility." And that translates into "definitely making it funky and to mean something. I don't feel comfortable making empty music."
Speaking of which, I ask him what he thinks of what the majority of his contemporaries are churning out. Many hip-hop fans are disheartened by the lack of political voices in the music.
"Don't get depressed about that," Kweli says. "Artists are writing those songs. It's the media and the corporations who are suppressing these songs and messages.
"I wouldn't agree there's a lot of emptiness in hip-hop, 'cause The Roots and Blackalicious put out great records last year. And to say that two albums were great means hip-hop's in a great state."
Hmm. Kweli says he's not depressed about the state of hip-hop, because "major corporations haven't represented hip-hop positively." So, does being signed to a major label pose a moral dilemma for this outspoken wordsmith?
"Once you're signed to a label you compromise," he shoots back. "Even an independent label is looking for a hit, they're not looking for a record that's not gonna do well. As far as being on a major label, some labels get it and get what they have to do, and some labels don't. I don't think the label I'm on necessarily gets it, but I think over time
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