Talib Kweli: BLM is a peaceful movement fighting ‘a violent police state’

Talib Kweli, the keynote speaker at this year’s hip hop summit at Stockton University. (Bill Barlow for WHYY)

Talib Kweli, the keynote speaker at this year’s hip hop summit at Stockton University. (Bill Barlow for WHYY)

Rapper and activist Talib Kweli defended the Black Lives Matter movement as citizens using peaceful methods to confront police violence.

Kweli made his comments on Thursday as the keynote speaker at this year’s Hip Hop Summit at Stockton University in Pomona, New Jersey. The performer is a major hip hop artists who gained early recognition in the late 1990s when he and fellow Brooklyn rapper Mos Def formed the hip-hop duo Black Star.

Kweli says it is telling that the Black Lives Matter movement has been labeled by some as akin to terrorists, which he thinks is ridiculous.

“Black Lives Matter is an organization that uses peaceful tools like marches and demonstrations to combat a very violent police state,” he said. “People of color are forced to live under a constant threat of violence from law officers who are sworn to uphold the law.”

In 2015, Kweli helped raise $100,000 for the Ferguson Defense Fund to support the protest movement in Ferguson, Missouri after police shot Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old. A grand jury declined to charge the officer who shot Brown.

In addition to Black Lives Matter Kweli also waded into a controversy closer to home. Mumia Abu-Jamal is serving a life sentence for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. He had previously been on death row, but was resentenced to life without parole. The case has long been a lightning rod for activists across the political spectrum. Kweli told the Stockton students while working on his 2013 album “Prisoner of Conscience,” he decided he could not use that name without doing more to call attention to actual prisoners of conscience. He believes Abu-Jamal falls into that group, saying “mountains of evidence” suggest his innocence.

“It is clear to any rational, compassionate person who reviews Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case that he was framed for murder due to his affiliation with the Black Panthers and MOVE, organizations that routinely stood up against racist policing in Philadelphia back in the 1970s,” he said.

The family and friends of murdered police officer Daniel Faulkner say they have no doubt Abu-Jamal is guilty of the crime.

Kweli’s positions on Mumia and Black Lives Matter fit in a larger narrative that he says can be found in hip hop music.

Music with a message

Kweli says the roots hip hop music can be found in black nationalism and the black power movement that came before it. He first heard hip-hop in the 1980s when there was an explosion of creativity and innovation in the New York music scene, and many rappers reflected the values and ideas of black cultural nationalism.

“As a cultural movement, hip hop was being defined by voice, and that voice sounded a lot like the black liberation movement of the 1960s,” he said. He cited numerous artists, including KRS-One and Public Enemy.

At that time, he began to see a connection between the academic world and the streets.

“Books that championed the beauty and intelligence of black people were becoming prized commodities in the hood,” he said. “Hustlers began selling academic titles on street corners, which eventually led to many impromptu ciphers.”

New York rappers brought that message into their music, he said.

“It was no longer enough just to be nice on the mic, as MCs began to add historic and academic knowledge to their skill set.”

This environment helped propel Public Enemy to become one of the biggest acts on the planet, he said. They were the perfect vehicle to drive home the lessons of Malcolm X, Kweli said. As one of the best known among what are sometimes referred to as conscious rappers, Public Enemy helped make conscious rap reputable, said Kweli.

But that style fell out of step with what the fans wanted.

There was a backlash, the fiercest of which came out of Los Angeles, where NWA launched a hard-edged, West Coast version of the music with the seminal album “Straight Outta Compton.” While Kweli expressed appreciation for the rawness and intensity of the album, he also described it as very misogynistic.

While the term conscious rap was once frowned upon in hip hop circles as corny and self-righteous, especially as many musicians celebrated flashy materialism, the message, he said, is now back in the music.

“Nowadays, even some of the biggest rappers in the game, like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and Chance the Rapper, are considered children of the conscious rap movement,” he said.

Stockton University’s 2017 Hip-Hop Summit was coordinated by Donnetrice Allison, a professor of communication and Africana studies and students in her Introduction to Hip Hop Culture class.

This year’s theme was “Stay Woke: Using Hip Hop as a Tool for Consciousness Raising.” The free event also featured panel discussions and performances from local hip-hop artists.

COLD RAIN by Talib Kweli

Lyrics

Lets try something new
It’s been a long time coming
Let me try something brand new
Hey yo Ski
What you ever do, man?
Come on
Yo, what we doing it for?

This is for the day-trippers and the hipsters
Whores and the fashionistas
Spiritual leaders practicing law to laws of attraction
The teachers who read the passages
From the back of a G
That be bustin’ off Dalai Lamas or flashing heaters
The last of the boosters

With the shooting, the thugging and all the booning and spooning
And all the crooning, and cooning and auto-tuning, you laugh
You be tellin’, peddlin’ to consumers I’m helping them to see through it
Get with this new movement,
Let’s move it

Through the cold rain
Still I’m standing right here
Even on winter summer days

Yeah I’m a product of Reaganomics
From the blocks where they rocking a feds like J Electronica
Drop and make this lock
If the promise is where the heart is
Whether Jesus or Mohammad
Regardless of where the Mosque is (word)

They hope for the Apocalypse like self-fulfilling prophecy
Tell me when do we stop it?
Do they ask you your religion before you rent an apartment?
Is the answer burning Korans
So that we can defend Islamics?
The end upon us with a hash tag, a trended topic

You take away the freedoms that we invite in the game
Then you disrespect the soldiers; you ask them to die in vain
In a desert praying for rain
The music’s like a drug, and they tend to take it to vein
It ain’t for the well-behaved

The soundtrack for when you’re great, but its more for when you’ve felt afraid
More than your average rapper
So you sort of felt the way
The brain is like a cage, you a slave and that’s why they lovin’
This the book that Eli that start with a K-W

Through the cold rain
Still standing right here
Even on winter summer days

Through the cold rain
Still standing right here
Even on winter summer days

I do it for the trappers, other rappers
The backpackers, the crackers
The niggas, the metal-packers
The victims of ghetto factories

I do it for the families, citizens of humanity
Emcee’s, endangered species like manatees
I do it for the future of my children
They the hope for the hopeless

Karma approaches, we gon’ be food for a flock of vultures
The end of the world
Ain’t nothing left but the cockroaches
And the freedom fighters
We’re freedom writers like Bob Moses

The chosen, freedom writers like Voltaire
For my block, my borough, my hood, my city, my state, yeah
My obligation to my community is so clear
Yeah, we gotta save them, this opportunity so rare

We do it so big over here that it’s no bare
To the punks, bitches, the chumps, the snitches, the sneak in the game
We let them live although they’re weak and they’re lame
The bozo’s and joker’s, promoting when they’re speaking my name

Through the cold rain
Still standing right here
Even on winter summer days

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