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Talib Kweli Stands His Ground

Interview: The "conscious" rapper on stop and frisk, feminism, and homosexuality in hip-hop.

| Mon Aug. 26, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

MJ: Switching gears, can you reflect on hip-hop's general attitude toward homosexuality and equality?

TK: Homosexuality in hip-hop is an extension of homosexuality in the black community. The black community is very, very conservative when it comes to homosexuality, and I don't mean conservative in the good way, like we're saving money. I mean very intolerant. That's how it's always been. I do see a new generation, partly because of the internet and technology, embracing it. I see young black boys, young black women in the hood embracing homosexuality in ways they never would've when I was younger. When I was a teenager, the way some of these kids out here be actively gay, it would have been ridiculed in the hood. And now the hood is a bit more accepting. Begrudgingly accepting, but definitely more accepting than 20 years ago when I was a little kid.

"There just needs to be a gay rapper who's better than everybody. That's when that question will no longer be able to be asked."

That doesn't mean that anybody should stop fighting for equality just because people are begrudgingly a little more accepting. Now people won't beat you up; they might just talk behind your back.

But as far as hip-hop, it's real simple. There just needs to be a gay rapper—he doesn't have to be flamboyant, just a rapper who identifies as gay—who's better than everybody. Unfortunately hip-hop is so competitive that in order for fringe groups to get in, you gotta be better than whoever's the best. So before Eminem, the idea that there would be a white rapper that anybody would really check for was fantastic or amazing or impossible. You had people like 3rd Bass and other people came through, and people respected them for their dedication to hip-hop. But people didn't really take white rappers seriously until Eminem, because he was better than everybody. Like female emcees, you need to be like Lauryn Hill or Nicki Minaj or killing everything before somebody takes you seriously.

MJ: Can you talk about what happened when Crunk Feminist Collective accused you of not being a real ally for women? [He responded in detail at the time.]

TK: First of all, Crunk Feminist Collective, I think, is a noble endeavor, and any group of young women coming together to uplift women, especially being run by women of color, I have no choice but to support that. But they're dead wrong on me. I support them whether they're wrong on me or not because they're needed.

The thing is, allies is people who are friends, people you can rely on in the struggle. You're not always going to agree with your allies. For instance, Stevie Wonder I feel like is my ally when it comes to this Florida situation, but I don't agree with his strategy. That doesn't mean he isn't an ally.

"That's the Crunk Feminists' issue: How dare I say I approach Rick Ross with love!"

That's the same way I feel about Crunk Feminists. Here you have a bunch of bloggers who are not even quoting any feminists' works who are telling me what I can do better when I've been doing this as my life's work while y'all still in college! What are you talking about? And their criticism was of the idea that we should approach people like Rick Ross and Lil' Wayne with love when they have lyrics that we don't like, as opposed to approaching them with hate. That's their issue: How dare I say I approach Rick Ross with love! But you know, the founder of Crunk Feminists is a Christian. If you claim to be a Christian, but then you attack somebody for saying you should approach a problem with love, you're not being a true Christian. But as far as female emcees, I've got a song on my new album called "A State of Grace," which is about a young woman who has just basically given up listening to hip-hop. She's tired of being called a bitch and a ho; she went to her favorite rapper's concert and he let her backstage—she didn't let him get it, he called her a bitch, and she just has negative experience with hip-hop.

It's just a story. It's something that I see young women going through. And to be honest with you, that whole exchange with Crunk Feminist actually made me write the song because I realize there's a lot of young women out there so hurt by the misogynistic images in hip-hop they paint it with such a broad brush stroke that they think anybody that defends hip-hop is defending misogyny.

MJ: Where do you think progressive hip-hop artists fall into the broader scheme of mass media hip-hop nowadays?

TK: I try to count the blessings rather than the problems. On the hip-hop charts, you have J. Cole, you have Macklemore and Ryan Lewis three, four times in the top 10. You got Kendrick Lamar. I could go on. There are conscious elements all through pop music. Macklemore, Ryan Lewis are the best example; they made a completely conscious, underground hip-hop, indie album. It doesn't get any more underground, conscious or indie than Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, but because they got a couple of really big pop hits, actually some of the biggest pop hits that hip-hop has ever seen, people are missing that part of their story. People are not counting that blessing.

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