Almost two decades since he burst on the scene as part of the critically acclaimed rap duo Black Star, Talib Kweli finds himself in a strange position: He still has to hustle to make a living, even more than he did early in his career, when a powerful music industry was pushing him. At the same time, he finds himself au courant for reasons that he doesn’t necessarily like: As a standard bearer for so-called conscious rap and a politically outspoken MC, newfound attention to police violence keeps him in demand.
“All of a sudden I start getting asked to be on talk shows, or people want to do interviews, and then I start hearing my music on the radio and this and that, and it’s not really a good feeling,” Kweli told me during an interview at Moogfest, a music and technology festival in Durham, North Carolina, earlier this month.
Kweli performed at the festival’s “Protest Stage,” capping off a night that included the gender-bending rapper Mykki Blanco and Omar Souleyman, the keffiyeh-clad Syrian wedding singer who has become an unlikely global sensation. Several hours before the stage, we spoke about what it means to be a politically engaged artist in the era of Donald Trump, what his old collaborators Mos Def and Kanye West are doing, and why he’s steadfastly committed to feeding the trolls on his high-volume, highly followed Twitter account. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.