Talib Kweli Speaks On How "Underground Emcee" Is A Misused Term

Kwe' explains that the term isn't exactly a concrete description of an emcee's position.

Often branded as an “underground emcee” throughout his career, Talib Kweli has spoken out on the term, explaining that the label is regularly misused and that some apply the label to rappers who don’t fit in a box. Speaking with Respect Magazine, the Black Star member threw out a few examples of how “underground” doesn’t work.

“People often confuse what they mean when they refer to underground. Was DMX underground? How about Red and Meth when they were going platinum? Is it a sound? A feeling? Or is there some sort of industrial numerical value?” he said. “Is it about record sales? Labels and media outlets have to put things in neat little boxes to sell them, they have to package it somehow. If they can’t explain it, they can’t sell it.”

He continued by explaining that his career doesn’t follow any one path, and that there isn’t a standard career trajectory for all rappers.

“There is much about my success as an artist that these folks can’t explain. To you and me it’s plain as day, but to them it’s perplexing,” he said. “An artist can be many things, whatever he chooses to be. So ‘Cube can be a capitalist and make Coors commercials, he can be a filmmaker and make Family Fare or he can be an underground gangsta rapper selling music independently. All at once.”

RELATED: Talib Kweli Speaks On His Next Album "Prisoner Of Conscious,” Possible Black Star LP


  • Anonymous

    so he fucks for buck now show him money and he'll jump in bed

  • Anonymous

    Cool, he's betraying all the fans who made him who he is nowadays.

  • PrickJames

    BlackStar is the new Detox... mu'fuccas!


    WITHOUT ALL THE TECH TALK plain and simple kweli just wants to sell out why cant ppl just say as well as himself. he dont like collabing wit dope mc's and would rather find some wack artist that some ppl make excuses for because they play him on the radio and contradict himself away from his earlier work in which he himself states in the rule of hip hop would be a wack move but now he wants some attention from a fan base that knows nothing about hip hop music or culture now he wants that side of the game but ok whatever then dont shit on everybody that supported you in the past because of what you stood for but this is the thing ppl gave you too much credit and didnt check for ID first cuz your know different than a gimmck who sell himself as bullshit to get a look from ppl and you sir are just that you jus did it from this side of the map but the same a mainstream artist that loses touch wit self for a fan base. you used the underground to get success now you got light so now its time get paid. ill let you sit and think since you are you know a (Prisoner of conscious) you'll have time then. P.S. what was that Roots song agian oh i know (never do what they do) You wanna be a man then stand your own to mc require skills i demand some shown - words by black thought

  • Anonymous

    ''In a era when a new artist pops up one year and disappears the next, one person who has been consistent throughout is Brooklyn emcee Talib Kweli.'' I stopped reading here. This guy's pretty much straight garabge since The Beatuiful Struggle. He has to blame himself that people put him in a box. ''Yes.. Every day somebody ask me where all the real MC's is at? They underground There's mad talented cats underground with that raw shit Yaknowwhat'msayin? Bringin them raw skills YaknowwhatI'm sayin? Really, to me..''

  • Talib Kweli's other question

    another misused term: classic album. almost everyone would refer to an album as a classic. whether the album is very old, or an album that just got released today or will be released in the future, or an album that has perfect 5-stars all around it or another that is pure wackness with 1-stars....a lot of ppl will always refer to a lot of albums as a classic album. so exactly, what is a classic album??

    • Anonymous

      The word "Classic," as applied to an album, is a collection of work put together by an artist which will stand the test of time. And the quality will definitely be able to out shine all, when put up against any so-called modern day music or the hot new thing which the media pumps out through these radio and tv outlets

    • Anonymous

      Very good definition there's one problem with your theory though.....THE CONSUMERS OF HIP HOP ARE FOOLS. Meaning that the actual meaning of a "classic" that you described doesn't comply with the current consumer generation and so we will NEVER have another genuine classic EVER,AGAIN.

    • Anonymous

      ''The word classic means something that is a perfect example of a particular style, something of lasting worth or with a timeless quality.'' ''but the criteria for classic status tends to include the test of time.'' ''of the first or highest quality, class, or rank: a classic piece of work.'' People tend to only think about the tracks they like on albums and ignore the garbage ones. To be considered a classic it has to be one of the finest lyrical performances, absolutely amazing beats, dope and refreshing concepts, it must be timeless and it has to be praised by the community and the fans alike.

  • Google

    Ok I guess this prisoner of conscious album is a set up for waka and gucci rapping on lex luger beats with him....Talib will find out soon enough just like Mic geronimo before him Qtips amplified,and many others who left their lane how quick loyal fans will leave him

    • Bowski

      I'm so glad that we're all having this kinda dialogue INTELLIGENTLY, and it is an important topic in my opinion. @ Truth That mentality of "They're both getting paid anyway" is what is killing hip hop today. Hip hop has never been about how many units a wack ass rapper can move, as a matter of fact 15 years ago rappers like Gucci would've never made it into the game. But Corporate America came into our culture & sold us this "sellout" mentality & we've been trying to reel back from that sickness ever since. Whatever Talib's incentive was for collabing w/Gucci I can only hope it makes a lot of sense to him, because as a Talib fan it clearly makes no sense to me, & I'm willing to bet that I'm not the only one that feels that way. That comment you made has absolutely nothing to do w/a dope mc collabing w/a wack rapper that is clearly out of Talib's lane in ANY category. I highly doubt that any of Gucci's "hardcore" fans will even care for Talib's verse on such a collaboration anyway. @ Anon You mirrored my sentiments exactly, this is one of the points I tried to express to Kevin. I hope that the collab didn't happen strictly based on a payday. I would hate to view Talib in that kinda light, especially not at this stage in his career. I agree w/you 100% man. @ Bloddy Bastard Let's keep it 100, you really feel that Talib collabing w/ANYBODY will really help his fans see/believe his authenticity? Bro certain things are just not cool no matter what. Tell me you didn't feel some kinda way when you heard a grown ass man like Raekwon on that Justin Bieber remix? Raekwon's blessing in disguise was that song was'nt popular so it didn't affect rae as much as it could've. These mc's that we hold to a certain esteem should really be mindful of the type of energy they put out there about type of mc they are especially when they make moves that are based mostly on the power of the almighty dollar. Stuff like that just aint cool. There are lines that should'nt be crossed cos it leaves a sour taste in the minds of those of us that consider ourselves TRUE hip hop fans.....

    • Kevin

      @awake in the matrix.... You know, the whole Gucci/Waka argument is a worst case scenario. Kweli saying he doesnt want to be called concious doesnt necessarily mean an all out party/pop track collaboration. Your whole " alot of fans kweli is looking for arent even hip hop fan or music fans in general " argument is empty speculation from the whole elitist hiphop stand. Kweli has denied being labeled conscious on some oft he most lyrical tracks. Like Kweli said on hostile gospel: "They couldn't find the words to describe me so they resort to the shortcuts/ Is he a backpacker?/ Is he a mad rapper?/ An entertainer or the author of the last chapter" Kweli will not stop being a lyrical genius regardless of who he collaborates with. He just doesnt like the whole concious label and the redstrictions that go with it. I've heard people complain a beat is too "pop" regardless of the masterful lyrics on it, which is supposed to be the point and the label the track trash. "underground" and "concious" as an artist would be horrible labels for some since any experimentation could be dubbed selling out. Kweli, whose survived all this time by experimenting with different sounds and styles but still (most importantly) worthy content would probably hate the label. Look what its getting from you. He says he doesn't want to be called underground and you immediately assume he's 'no longer part of the movement to wake people up' whatever the hell that means. Yours just emphasizing his point. Did his denial of being concious make eardrum any less epic? No it did not. Did a collaboration with Gucci make any of his releases around the time any worse? No it didn't. Kweli has been in the game since '95 and now you think he's selling out because he's stating what hes been saying for years. "Dont label me" Come on man. Be real. He's not out to save the world, he's out to make good music. since he's been doing it for approaching two decades in a few years, im going to trust his track record as opposed to your two bit uppity analysis. The kind of person who regards people who like a different kind of music as "simple minds" probably shouldn't claim to be awake in the matrix. Thats like claiming people are dumb for liking 24 and other tv series as opposed to watching documentaries all the time. I know a score of people who actually think that. Its ridiculous. However taste is not always based on depth and thats the truth of it, everyone will pick. My friend picks clothes on what conveys the most artistic sensibility and meaning, i pick what looks cool. People in her world of thought may choose to think of me as a "simple mind" which is absurd, as absurd as what you're saying


      ok if u think ONE track is going to change mass ignorance which also is dominated and surrounded all day on tv,radioand any other outlet thats undercontrol by (THE POWERS THAT BE) then your sadly mistakin and prob work for the whole agenda plan yourself. there is a reason music like gucci,waka,etc are around in the first place so to come down and lessin your stance is branching out with growth giving in to the simple minds and not staying apart of a movement to wake people up is the way to be now huh? one track isnt gonig to gain anything lmfaol. nor is one track going to make you a heap of money either you jus did a track wit a wack nigga theres nothing deep wit stradagy about that. look you make music from a foundation and grow from there not neglecting and crossing over away from what you told us yourself what you represent so i dont wanna here all this box bullshit cuz for the same reason you did that song you could use the same for a more respectable artist. that fan base is beyond comprehencable to anything that resembles what we call hip hop music its like fucking kryptonite to them plus your jus ONE artist thats not goin to change shit on that side of the game keep it real with yourself on that. one song? not an album but one song is going to wake the FCC up along wit clear channel sound scan then why havent artist like j live and oddisee or other artist done this along time ago instead of grabbing people who are mind alike and musically tasteful to get at the world. alot of fans kweli is looking for arent even hip hop fan or music fans in general they jus get in their car and turn on the radio and listen to the first thing they hear over and over until they know it by heart they dont follow the music or anything jus listen when its right there at that particular time but your going to change the landscape wit one track but everything after that ONE song is wack ok whatever say-Little Brother and you saw what happen to them wanted mass appeal by doing one track wit lil gayne right after minstrel show and it was over for them. you cant say one thing and do another the rules never changed wit those who still follow

    • bloody bastard

      I think Kweli has the right to collab with anyone he wants and spit on any kind of track he wants, obviously. Some fans will not be pleased if he does not fit inot the narrow conception of how his music "should" sound, but if he keeps making similar type of material to what he has done in the past against his own creative instincts(if he wants to make different kinds of music), he will only end up making subpar material anyway. He's a man and has to continue to grow and reach more people, this does not necessarily = selling out. How can you expect this man to stay in a certain "box" or "lane" that you define? I think Gucci Mane is trash too, but just sayin.... maybe Gucci fans will be exposed to some kind of conscious and intelligent material through this collabo. And that certainly wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. GUTTER RAINBOWS was pretty dope to me BTW, and joints like Tater Tots/Palookas showed some experimantation musically, so I say DO YOU, KWELI. Define your own musical self and let people form their own opinion of your direction....

    • Kevin

      @Bowski i can understand that @truth If you read what i said you'll realize my point was Kweli can work with whoever he wants if he doesnt dumb it down. I dont get how pay comes into this particular discussion. @Anon Gucci as a lyricist, pathetic. Its not even debatable. Gucci as party/club type track rapper, he comes out pretty good in that category. Not my cup of tea, but if it came down to Gucci or Kweli when im hosting a party, its a no brainer whats gonna be played. All im saying is, if i could get a few party tracks i can actually listen to when im not wasted, better for every hip hop fan. So if Kweli still spitting fire but making a track with Gucci and still spitting fire is against some sort of "hiphop" principle - i really am happy we don't live in that kind of caged hip hop world.

    • Anonymous

      LOL @ this nigga defending Talib works with these fools. There's a difference between GOOD and BAD mainstream artists. Gucci is one of the absolute worst examples and you just don't do that if you put out things like Train Of Thought, Black Star or Quality. It goes against all his principles. The reason that he outshined Gucci doesn't work here. That was just a bitch move.

    • Truth

      No matter if he out shined vanilla ice the moral of it is both rappers leave the booth paid....So gucci get's murdered on a track but kills the bills.... Just a response to someone who said watch them try and defend gucci lol...... And gucci could care less if he got one upped because at the end of the day he cool wit talib and best believe talib will be on a gucci album as well.....Good day and don't forget to kill yourself...

    • Bowski

      @ Kevin Obviously you know your music man, I didn't even know that a Talib/Gucci collab had even happened. To be honest as much as I like Talib, his music hasn't been that blazin hot to me since the "Ear Drum" album which I still rock occasionally. Now I will agree w/you that if Talib hopped on a track w/Gucci & bodied it, just like you I would love to see a Gucci fan try to say how Gucci came off hotter than Talib; Hence the reason why I wont build about music w/cats under a certain age, somethings totally defy logic in my opinion. I also agree w/you that Talib has tried to seperate himself from that "box", but when you go down memory lane and remember that original "Black Star" album, it's kinda hard to view him in anyother kind of light. It's a tough pill to swallow knowing that for whatever reason he felt it necessary to jump on a joint w/the likes of Gucci because I'm just one of those hip hop purists that hate to see a dope artist reach out for crossover appeal. I still believe that an artist can fully maintain in their realm and still rock out successfully throughout their musical career. My examples of such artists who've done so successfully are: the entire Wu-Tang Clan, LL, & M.O.P. That's all I'm saying man, however your point is also well taken.

    • Kevin

      Oh and i forgot to add, Kweli can collab with anyone if he goes in and just murders the track and i dont think anyone will mind. On poltergeist with Gucci, i love that song. Not coz of Gucci but coz Kweli just demolishes the track and you get to see the real difference between the two. Its a good thing once in a while, especially when talking to a gucci fan and watch them try defend that hes better. You can easily say "Kweli did your style of music and was still better than your favorite artist"

    • Kevin

      @Bowski Granted, it may not work, but it might.If it comes down to sales, i'm sure after reasonable doubt if anyone had mentioned Jay doing some of the collaborations he does it would have been classified as career suicide.Worked out pretty well. If i know Talib's fans, most of them anyway, a Gucci/Waka track or two wont affect them buying his album or not if they were set on buying it. Besides, from album to album Kweli plays around with different styles. His point seems to be he's not in the "box" he's associated with, which i agree. He kinda does his own thing most times. He has been on a Gucci track and he received support (And some flak) for it and his career didn't plummet, so i see your point but don't entirely agree with you.

    • Bowski

      @ Kevin You have some valid points regarding the variance in music for your listening pleasure, however that is not my point. My point is simply that Talib has been placed in a "box" as a certain type of hip hop artist & that's not a bad thing but it is a fact whether or not he appreciates it. I dont drive around listening to Talib all day long as a matter of fact like you I don't dig all of his stuff. However at a party or club I do enjoy different types & I promise you if you checked my Ipod you'd find Three Six Mafia, Young Jeezy & other rappers that I would'nt dare place in the same lane as Talib. The truth is that when checking for artists such as Talib, Common or The Roots you won't expect to automatically affiliate their style of music w/cats like Waka or Gucci, they're just not in the same lane & I don't care how creative an artist may think they are. As tempting a mash up like that may be be for Mr. or Miss so & so out there, it just would'nt be welcomed and you don't have to take my word for it, I would dare Talib to try that sorta mix up and see what happens to his career, point blank. There are just certain things you can't sell to ppl, and that my friend is not a Bowski rule, but an unspoken "Hip Hop" understanding.

    • Kevin

      @Bowski: "We as fans see them only in a certain light " I don't agree with this line exactly. The light i see Kweli's music in is he makes good music, not a particular branch of music. I've been a Kweli fan and i hold no love for Gucci or Wacka but when it comes down to it hiphop is not a particular sound. There is no "real" hiphop. Hiphop is a culture, its not applicable to one distinct sound. The truth is, while i have Kweli, Lupe, Jay Electronica etc on my ipod i will not be jamming to them in the club. Chances are that Gucci and Waka will show up there, often. Hiphop is a matter of context, every bit of music has its place. Waka is no lyricist and hes said so, often but youd be hard pressed to argue his music isnt appropriate for parties. The entire essence of hiphop is that its use can span any scenario. Thats why its a culture, its not just for your headphones, thats why its amazing. So Kweli saying he doesn't only want to be in a box with only one use is making the helluva a point. That doesnt mean it'll be a party track, but it could be. If you dont respect an artists need to branch out and have music that reaches to new horizons then you were never a "loyal" fan. I dont like every single Kweli song, but there is someone who liked the ones i dont like. Saying Kweli should only make certain types of songs that YOU like or youll stop listening to him even if his others are great....come on man.

    • Bowski

      I feel what "Google" is saying but Talib always seems to be at the center of this topic. To "Mike" & "Reply To This Comment" I say this, "HELL NO I dont wanna ever hear Gucci mane or Waka on a Talib album/track". Artists have a certain lane/box that they're placed in whether they like to admit it or not. We as fans see them only in a certain light but for the REAL artists out there, they should welcome this so-called "box". They can be creative as much as they wanna be and still never reach they're full potential within that so-called "box", but branching out to staright up WACK rappers is a no-no in this "box" Talib. Try it & you'll be done career-wise. You've gotta be thankful to be accepted in whatever lane you started out in, those are your musical roots. I'd rather Talib do a track w/ pop artists like NERD or somebody else that's considered closer to his "box" than a Gucci Mane or Waka. There are certain lines that when crossed will NEVER be forgiven. Overall though I think Talib is at the center of these type of conversations because he's not happy in his "box". My suggestion to him is to get over it or commit career suicide, at the end of the day just make dope music, that's all it's about anyways.......

    • Mike

      I agree with Chris. Plus, Amplified is a really good album...I don't see how fans would be disappointed with that one.

    • chris

      whats wrong with having waka and gucci on a song as long as its a GOOD song? why should he have to limit himself to a certain sound, as long as he makes good music?

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