Last Friday, the atmosphere inside Tivoli Turnhalle was so engaging that Talib Kweli received a standing ovation before he even spoke a word.
Metro’s Department of African American Studies hosted the rapper for the Free Sankofa Lecture Series. The event attracted students and spectators from Auraria and beyond, filling the 640 seat auditorium to the maximum capacity.
Talib Kweli, who’s name means “seeker” or “student of knowledge” has transitioned past merely MC status into the realm of cultural icon.
According to the event program distributed to guests, the “core intent” of the Sankofa Lecture Series is the “use of hip-hop culture as a medium to analyze and address social inequalities in society.”
The “pre-lecture artistic expression” featured spoken word poetry from well-respected Denver based artists Suzi Q. Smith and DJ Cavem Moetavation, among others. Yet, it was the lyrics spoken by the Brooklyn native Kweli that made him the perfect keynote speaker at the event.
Although Kewli’s speech was part of a lecture series, he mentioned in his opening remarks, “I’m not going to be lecturing, I want it to be more of a conversation.”
He addressed a variety of topics related to black history including the Black Panther Party, the Trayvon Martin incident and, of course, hip-hop music.
“America is a place where everyone’s flavor is so distinct it doesn’t melt together,” Kweli said, who also performed at Cervantes, April 14. “You can only respect the culture of other people, if you respect your own.”
Talib Kweli is held in high regard by his fans and peers alike. In 2003, when rapper 50 Cent was chosen as guest editor of XXL Magazine’s 50th issue, he selected Talib Kweli as the featured interview. In perhaps Jay-Z’s most candid track, “Moment of Clarity,” he said, “If skills sold, truth be told, I’d probably be, lyrically, Talib Kweli.”
“What I learned is, I’m in the right place. Keep going,” Kweli said. “We have to put the needs of our community first. Talk about the art and the culture and the power that we have.”
Kweli’s musical career is critically acclaimed and includes favorable reviews for his more recent album’s Eardrum and his classic, Train of Thought, which was produced by Hi-Tek.
In perhaps the most notable part of Kweli’s address, the rapper explained his position on the modern music industry.
“It used to be about being convincing. You really thought Eminem was going to kill Kim,” Kweli said. “The older rappers had a believability factor. This generation just cares for entertainment.”
He said he does not fault the sound created by the new school. Instead, he is mad at the radio program directors who choose to play the songs.
“‘Rack City’ should be getting played at 3 a.m. in a strip club, not 3 p.m. on the way home from school,” Kweli mused.
Perhaps his next album, Prisoner of Consciousness, set for release later in 2012, will finally get BlackStar mainstream validation, if not a grammy award.
In the interim, BlackStar, a duo comprised of Talib Kweli and Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def), will perform at Cervantes May 11.
Either way, Kweli’s message of love, idealism, and diversity will continue to be well respected and well received.