Kevin Winter, Getty Images T.I. and Lil Wayne are teaming up once again, only this…
- Posted on Jul 19th 2007 5:00PM by Steve Baltin
Are you doing much stuff from the new album on this tour right now?
I do a lot of new songs. I've been doing 'New York Weather Report,' 'More or Less,' 'Listen!!!' and 'Say Something' [from 'Ear Drum'] live for a long time. Just recently I've started to do 'Hostile Gospel' and 'Give 'em Hell.' 'Say Something' is something that the crowd responds to, irregardless of what kind of crowd. A lot of my core fan base, they didn't like the record, they felt like it was too aggressive or whatever, but what happens with me often is I'm caught in a catch-22. I'm making headphone music for people who love the texture of hip-hop, but that music doesn't translate well onstage. My whole career is based on stage shows, not on record sales. So I have to make records that resonate onstage, and 'Say Something' does that. As soon as that beat drops, you're jumping up and down in the audience, and sometimes my core fan base that wants to hear that sort of headphone music doesn't always get that.
But isn't the real money being made these days on touring, not on sales?
It's been that way with me for years. I do 250 shows a year. I support my family, I got a label deal based on my touring. Even in hip-hop, what you find is I get booked consistently, along with groups like Zionide, Blackalicious, the Roots, Common. There are certain groups that you see on the road, hip-hop groups, but it's a small handful, and I really would love to see the Lox on the road. Why don't the Lox ever come to Zurich? I think it's the idea of "Well, I don't sell any records out there, so there's no need for me to go out there." And it's like the first time I came out to Zurich no one ever heard of me either, but I'm part of a group of artists that we have a lane, not because we're that fantastic, we're very good performers and we take it seriously. I've done shows in cities where an artist, who has 3 million records sold and a radio hit right now, will come out and he's had to cancel his show because my show's in town.
How gratifying is it to have your own label and to work with Kanye, Norah, Will.I.Am and Justin on 'Ear Drum'?
It's gratifying, but I can't allow it to be self-satisfying. I can't be all smug about it. It's still a struggle. I still have a lot to prove. When it comes to my respect in the game, with audience and fans and people who love music, it's unparalleled. When it comes to respect in the industry, I get zero respect because they respect the dollars. And I've made money for myself, but I haven't made a whole bunch of money for record executives. But they see the potential of the consistency of the type of music I do. And as far as my relationships with artists, I'm very proud of the fact that my songs and relationships come organically.
How did you go about finding everyone?
Kanye, I met in the studio before 'The Blueprint'; he gave me three incredible tracks. Norah Jones was a real organic thing, like Justin Timberlake's in the house, as well. It's like he's somebody I went to Africa with and spent two weeks in a tent in the Serengeti with, and it's like we do songs. And then I get people who criticize: "Well, you're trying to get Kanye, Norah Jones and Justin Timberlake." Same with [the 2004 album] 'Beautiful Struggle,' when people criticized me for using Pharrell and Mary J. Blige and Faith [Evans]. It's like they think I'm using these people because I'm trying to get to their level of success, and they don't realize I'm not just a fan of these people, but these are people I hang out with and people I spend time with.
How did the Norah thing come about?
That song, I recorded on a tour bus and I was going to put the song on [Kweli & Madlib's album] 'Liberation' 'cause I felt like it was too abstract for the album I was working on. And everyone around me -- you're an artist, so you know sometimes you write stuff and it's like, "Whatever, that's just s***." And five people around you are like, "What are you talking about? That's incredible." And that's what happened with that record, so I was like, "OK, I'll put it on the album." And then my manager was like, "Let's put Norah Jones on it." I didn't think her style would mesh with my style of hip-hop; I was a fan of hers, I heard a couple of singles, I have one of her albums, but I was like, "Norah Jones, she would never want to be on this record." It was, like, self-deprecating: "She don't know who Talib Kweli is; she would never want to record with me." And then? I e-mailed her and she was in the studio within a couple of days.
It's still got to be nice when people whose work you dig admire your stuff.
It makes you feel you're on the right track, like, "OK, I'm good. I'm on the right road, I don't need to switch lanes."
How did you get involved with Rock the Bells?
I've been doing Rock the Bells for a number of years now, and I'm extremely impressed with [promoter] Chang [Weisberg]'s ability to reach my audience. The first time I ever did Rock the Bells, it blew my mind. I'm in San Bernardino, and there are 20,000 kids who all know my records. I'm like, "Why can't we find these 20,000 kids in every city or every state? If Chang can find 20,000 kids in San f***ing Bernardino, we can do this for real." I think he was thinking that all along, which is why he did the tour. It makes me feel good to be down with that, and Chang manages one of our best friends, Supernatural. Supernatural is the type of hip-hop artist who exemplifies the best of hip-hop culture, but it's because he's never had a hit record out people have never heard of him. But you can come to Rock the Bells and see him rock out and realize the beauty of hip-hop. I like the fact that every single progressive artist who's doing anything is involved with Rock the Bells.
Did you have any idea there would be that sort of audience out there?
Yeah, I've done festivals in Europe, Amsterdam, Germany, so I've done big festivals before. But they were like once in a blue. Like, to just do one in California with those types of artists, I didn't think that was possible.
Is there anybody else you're really excited to be sharing the stage with?
Everybody. From what I understand and from past Rock the Bells, if you're in a city and there's a rapper who's doing progressive music, he's going to be there. If I'm in New York, I'm going to see all the hot rappers in New York; if I'm in San Francisco, all the cats from the Bay Area are going to be performing on the side stage. I love watching Supernatural, I love watching Wu-Tang and Nas. Cypress Hill is doing some shows. I used to be a Cypress Hill groupie; I used to follow them around Smoking Grooves and s*** like that, so I'm just happy to be a part of it. I'm excited about the Pharoahe Monch show, what me and Mos [Def] are going to be able to do together onstage; it's a real good situation.