AKA Talib Greene
Birthplace: Brooklyn, NY
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: The Beautiful Struggle
The son of two college professors (sociology and English), Talib Kweli displayed a talent for writing early in his life, but it was an ambition to join the Major Leagues as a professional baseball player that preoccupied his childhood. This idea fell away by his teen years when he began to apply his skills to hip-hop rhyming, using it as a means to overcome his shyness and connect with his peers. In high school he began an enduring friendship with fellow Brooklyn native Dante Smith (later to make a name for himself as Mos Def), who encouraged him to pursue hip-hop as a full-time career; this idea was brought closer to fruition in 1994 through a meeting with Tony Cottrell (DJ Hi-Tek), a Cincinnati-based producer who, recognizing Kweli's talents, invited the young rapper to contribute to some of his projects for the Rawkus label. The first full-scale collaboration between Kweli and Hi-Tek (the single Fortified Live, issued under the name Reflection Eternal) was released by Rawkus in 1997.
In 1998 Kweli and Mos Def joined forces to form Black Star, a project whose name was taken from the first black-owned ocean liner to travel between Africa and the States, established by Marcus Garvey in 1919. The album Mos Def And Talib Kweli Are Black Star, featuring input from Hi-Tek and jazz multi-instrumentalist Weldon Irvine, had a significant impact on the underground hip-hop scene, and launched Kweli's professional career in earnest. That same year the two rappers purchased Nkiru Books, Brooklyn's oldest black-owned bookstore, and created the non-profit Nkiru Center for Education and Culture. The social awareness guiding the duo's activities was displayed once again in 1999, when they organized 41 different rappers to record Hip-Hop For Respect, a single released to protest the murder of Amadou Diallo by New York police (the unarmed immigrant was shot 41 times -- a killing for which the police were never made to face any significant consequences).
An album-length release by the Reflection Eternal partnership was issued in 2000, its singles Move Somethin' and The Blast both making an appearance on the charts. Kweli then hit the road as part of a package tour also featuring De La Soul, Common, Pharoahe Monch and Biz Markie, followed by a tour with the soul/hip-hop hybrid outfit The Roots. By 2002 both Mos Def (who was now pursuing an acting career) and Hi-Tek had moved on to other concerns, and so Kweli began working with a new group of collaborators to create his debut solo effort Quality -- among whom were his former touring mates Pharoahe Monch and Common, as well as new artists such as vocalist Res. Also enlisted was the up-and-coming producer Kanye West, whose work on the track Get By resulted in Kweli's most successful single yet. The album's later singles Waitin' for the DJ and Joy helped to maintain the rapper's critical reputation, but did not achieve the popularity that had seemed imminent.
With the help of West and many of the other contributors to Quality, Talib Kweli completed his second solo album The Beautiful Struggle in 2004. Due to the strong public support of Jay-Z, and the involvement of high-profile vocalists like Faith Evans, this second effort finally earned the rapper some of the commercial success that was expected with his first album. A much more deliberate attempt to produce radio-friendly songs (such as the utilization of the 1981 The Police hit Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic as backing for the track Around My Way) also clearly had much to do with this greater degree of public acceptance.
Reflection Eternal Vocalist (1997 and 2000)
Black Star Vocalist (1998-99)
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest (8-Jul-2011) · Himself
Block Party (12-Sep-2005) · Himself
Brown Sugar (5-Oct-2002) · Himself
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