Talib Kweli arrived at the Occupy Wall Street demonstration at New York’s Liberty Plaza last night and immediately took to Twitter: “Now this is the New York City I love,” he wrote. And indeed, this was a New York City that loved him as well. Kweli spent the evening exploring the premises and learning about the cause, and before he left for the night, he delivered an inspired a cappella performance that emphasized love and community.
“I couldn’t come back to my home town and not check this out,” Kweli told Rolling Stone before his performance (watch video below), standing before a scattered collection of protest signs lying on the ground. “I didn’t realize that this was something that was meant to last, with no end. It’s self-sufficient and is connecting people to people. It’s beautiful.”
CitizenRadio, a politically oriented podcast by comic Jamie Kilstein and journalist Allison Kilkenny, was responsible for Kweli’s presence on the grounds. The three had become friends after Kweli started listening to the podcast, and before Kweli took the makeshift stage in the center of the demonstrators, Kilstein performed his own racially charged routine that directly attacked the hypocrisies in our culture, encouraging the protestors with the fact that “first cameras came to mock you, now they can’t fucking ignore you.”
Then it was Kweli’s turn – and he delivered. He had one major message: It’s time for us to focus. In his first rhyme, a freshly written piece called “Distraction,” he criticized our current culture’s priorities: “Skip the religion and politics, head straight to the compassion,” he rapped. “Everything else is a distraction.” But once he finished, at the request of the crowd, he popped right back up – this time, with a poignant rendition of Blackstar’s “Thieves in the Night.” By the end of the a cappella cut the protestors had joined in, repeating the refrain together: “Hidin’ like thieves in the night from life / Illusions of oasis makin’ you look twice.”
But that still wasn’t all. The people wanted more, and Kweli sheepishly grinned as he obliged. To close the night, he instigated a crowd-response with an emphasis on humanity. “I’m at a loss for words,” he shouted, and the demonstrators echoed each syllable. “But even my loss is amplified.” He went on and ordered that every person with a “camera, computer, phone, or voice” needs to “do [their] job” and spread the word. “This is the end game. We have to grow.”
Photo by Griffin Lotz for RollingStone.com