Editor’s note: In “Tweets Is Watching,” Phillip Mlynar asks local artists questions based solely on the contents of their Twitter timeline.
Talib Kweli is gearing up to release his fifth solo album, Prisoner of Consciousness, on May 7. The project features collaborations with Kendrick Lamar, Curren$y, and Miguel (who appears on the latest smoothed-out single “Come Here”). In anticipation of the album’s release, we dipped into Kweli’s timeline and ended up talking Louis C.K.’s comedy, Saul Williams’ poetry, and high school days when he was a fanatic of the b-word.
— Talib Kweli Greene (@TalibKweli) April 16, 2013
What’s the concept behind the album’s cover art?
The cover art was by Jeff Staple and it’s basically the back of a canvas that somebody would paint over. If you get the actual artwork — I’m not sure how it’s gonna work on iTunes–but it’s different artists that Jeff works with giving their own interpretation of what Prisoner of Consciousness means to them. It’s a whole bunch of different pieces.
Did any of the artists’ interpretations surprise you?
Did they surprise me? I was pleasantly surprised by how much work was put into them, I’ll say that. There’s some really intricate pieces in there.
This is a song w/o music/There is no percussive gunshot/No chorus of hopeless screams/No trumpet call for soldiers/A silent melody of dreams
— Saul Williams (@SaulWilliams) April 15, 2013
You retweeted some lines from Saul Williams. What caught your eye about what he wrote?
Saul is one of my favorite writers. He’s able to capture things that might seem sort of high art or might seem sort of too intricate for the average person to understand or bourgeoise even, but he puts them on a working class and really folksy level. What I first caught from him was a line where he says, “You haven’t heard hip-hop until you’ve listened to Rakim on a rocky mountain top.” Now that’s excellent and beautiful imagery but bullshit, of course you’ve heard hip-hop if you’ve heard Rakim and you weren’t on a rocky mountain top, you know what I’m saying? But I get what he’s trying to say; he’s trying to say that this art is so beautiful that it doesn’t just exist in an urban setting. So the thing that he tweeted was interesting because he was talking about music but from his perspective as a spoken word artist, so unless he’s doing a Ziggy Stardust thing it’s not like there’s a lot of actual music behind what he’s actually doing. I thought it was a really interesting quote for a spoken-word poet.
Did you perform much with him at open mics in the ’90s?
All the time. I worked at a bookstore and Saul was in the book store all the time and we used to host open mics at the bookstore, like twice a week some times. He’d buy books all the time too, him and his daughter. He was a fixture at our store.
This was Nkiru Books, right?
What happened to it?
It was a book store, ha ha, you know what I’m saying? It’s what happened to every book store in the world.
Your best must get better but what really matters is when your worse gets better; your worse has to be above everybody’s best.. (Louis CK)
— Talib Kweli Greene (@TalibKweli) April 14, 2013
You also quoted Louis C.K. on your timeline.
I did. I’m a super fan of his. What I like about most comedians is that they tell the truth in a way that’s funny but all they’re really doing is exposing truths that a lot of us are afraid to expose or even deal with. With him, here’s a guy whose family is from Mexico on his father’s side and he’s got this real sort of underclass underdog almost immigrant experience but he looks white so he’s been able to experience white privilege as well so it gives him an interesting take on privilege in society and I think that comes through in his material. For me, he really gives a fresh perspective on what it is to be a responsible person, if not being an activist or a beacon or not cursing, but being responsible. That’s what I like about him.
Which rappers do you think would make great stand-up comedians?
Jean Grae, hands down, would be the best. Jean Grae, Mos Def, and Waka Flocka.
How was The Book Of Mormon?
Ah, it was excellent. It was subversive.
Did anything about it shock or surprise you?
Yes, the way they dealt with racism full-on, I wasn’t used to seeing that on Broadway or white writers. They kinda do it on South Park and I don’t know why but I didn’t expect them to go so hard on stage as they do on South Park and they did–they went maybe even harder. And I didn’t expect the language, a general butt-fucking, cunts and the shits and the fucks, I didn’t expect that. I don’t know why I didn’t expect it though.
Are you a South Park fan?
Do any favorite episodes come to mind?
There’s so many! There’s so many seasons! But I like the Sally Struthers episode, when she goes to Ethiopia–that’s what Book of Mormon reminded me of.
What’s so great about the Garrett popcorn you posted a picture of?
Have you ever had it?
I have not.
Clearly you haven’t or else you would not ask that question! It’s good, man, they make a great butter flavor, a great cheddar cheese flavor, a great caramel flavor, but they mix the caramel with the cheese and it’s just the sweet and the saltiness together and the popcorn texture is a great thing, man. It’s a great fatty thing that you shouldn’t be eating but it tastes incredible.
Where did you go to high school?
That picture of me was from the Cheshire Academy in Connecticut. I started high school at Brooklyn Tech and ended at Cheshire.
What were you like at high school?
I was into plays and theater. I was acting, writing and directing plays and I played a lot of baseball and listened to a lot of Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul.
What were you most interested in, the acting or baseball?
In high school I made a transition. The acting sort of supported the musical thing, ’cause I ended up focussing on that, but when I got to high school baseball was everything to me. I felt like I wanted to be a professional baseball player. But two years in I was more philosophical I guess and I started being more about music. The plays were an excuse to be creative. They were an excuse to let me play with music.
What position did you play when you were into baseball?
I was a utility player. I could play anywhere. I started out playing outfield ’cause I could run fast and I had long limbs when I was younger, so I was sometimes left-field, but once I got really good at baseball I began to do everything but catch. I could catch, I just wasn’t as good at that as everything else. On third bass, I was always very good ’cause I could throw right to first and I have good range and I can make that throw.