Talib Kweli will release his solo debut, Quality (Rawkus/MCA), on November 19th. The album is the first major-label effort by the rapper, who rose from the underground hip-hop forum Lyricists Lounge. Over the past four years, he's built a substantial following with the release of Reflection Eternal, his 2000 collaboration with DJ Hi-Tek, and Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star two years prior.
"It was just the best way of trying to describe what I wanted to do," Kweli says of the album's title. "The word just fit. I'm trying to focus on quality over quantity."
As could be expected, Quality boasts collaborations with like-minded members of the hip-hop and R&B community, accentuating Kweli's soulful sound. Bilal (who guests on "Waitin' for the DJ," the album's first single), the Roots' Black Thought, and recently minted R&B singer Res, all make guest appearances, as does newcomer Novel. "He's a cat from L.A. who's very young and extremely talented," Kweli says. "He can sing, he can rap and he can make beats, and he does it all very well. He's going to do some great things. He really cares about music and he's somebody who's grown up listening to a conscious vibe of rap and the popular shit. He takes it all in, and he's musically proficient."
Among the album's producers are the DJ Quik, Kanye West, the Soulquarians (James Poyser, Jay Dee and the Roots' Ahmir Thompson, who produced Bilal's 1st Born Second), Ayatollah (who produced Mos Def's Black on Both Sides), Kanye West (Scarface, Jay-Z), and DJ Scratch (Busta Rhymes, LL Cool J).
"Kanye created a fire under me," Kweli says. "He came into the sessions just to play some beats early and through the recording of the album, and he's probably the producer I'm most likely to record with right now, cause he's got a good energy. And we can just work, regardless if we're actually working on a project or not, he's just ready to work and that's refreshing. He definitely has a sound right now, but he's such a good producer I think next year he'll have a different sound and it'll keep evolving."
Quik's appearance seems an odd pairing on paper, but the cross-coastal pairing creates sparks on "Put It in the Air." And weeks after careless speculation was let loose surrounding the murder of Jam Master Jay, Kweli says such reports of lingering bi-coastal bickering are ridiculous. "I've been a fan, not the whole time I've listened to hip-hop, but over the last two years I've become much more of a fan of DJ Quik," Kweli says. "And the bi-coastal thing was absurd when it happened and it's even much more absurd now. It was never like that for me. You read about it in newspapers and magazines, but it wasn't anything that had a real affect on my life as an artist. It was based around real issues. New York never shows any region, much less the west coast, the same respect it shows the artists from New York. There's definitely cultural differences, so it's not completely ridiculous to say that there's differences in the music. But turning it into something bigger than those things is ridiculous."
With Quality, Kweli has also thrown out all borders as far as style, bringing in elements of rock, reggae and classic soul, particularly on "Talk to You," a new take on late Temptations legend Eddie Kendricks' "Can I." "When I played my mother that song, she said to me, 'Wow, all these records are records that were in the house, that you grew up with,'" he says. "And I never thought about why I picked the particular records I liked. But my mother made it clear to me that it was a record that was played a lot when I was younger. And that probably has a lot to do with why I wanted to do it. Hip-hop is a great foundation, because you can make a great collage. So we take advantage of that whenever possible."
As for what's next, Kweli plans to keep plenty busy. He plans to promote Quality through the usual channels, and is also primed to begin his next album, though he hasn't decided what format it will take.
Quality track listing:
Feel the Rush
We Come Through
Put It in the Air
Stand to the Side
Where Do We Go
Guerilla Monsoon Rap
Good to You
Won't You Stay
Talk to You (Lil' Darlin')
Waitin' for the DJ