Talib Kweli Breaks Down His 25 Most Essential Songs

Black Star f/ Common "Respiration" (1998)

Album: Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star
Producer: Hi-Tek
Label: Rawkus / Priority Records / EMI / MCA

Talib Kweli: “Yasiin had been on tour with De La Soul and he had done songs with them. Even though he wasn’t touring, he was very friendly with Q-Tip—they had a Muslim connection. And Yasiin knew Common through his De La connection. I did not know De La, nor did I know A Tribe Called Quest, nor did I know Common.

“Common was my favorite MC though. If Yasiin was becoming my favorite MC at the time, Common had been my favorite. You couldn’t tell me nothing wrong about Common. I thought Common was the greatest thing since sliced bread. When we talked about who we want on the album, I was the one who was like, ‘We need Common.’

“Yasiin was already kind of living the artist life, where I was sort of still on the outside looking in. I was still the administrator of the album, so Yasiin was still in the studio doing his parts but it’s really on me to make everything happen.

"Common had a show at Wetlands, which was an old club in New York. I went to the sound check to try and catch him but he was doing an interview with Joe Clair for Rap City at the time so I didn’t get a chance to talk to him. But it’s funny, if anyone has footage of that Rap City, you see me in the background as Common and Joe Clair are coming out of the tour bus, you see me in front of Wetlands waiting to meet Common.

 

I went to the sound check to try and catch Common but he was doing an interview with Joe Clair for Rap City at the time so I didn’t get a chance to talk to him. But it’s funny, if anyone has footage of that Rap City, you see me in the background as Common and Joe Clair are coming out of the tour bus, you see me in front of Wetlands waiting to meet Common.

 

“So it’s interesting, this is the day that I met my manager to this day, Corey Smyth. I was standing out there waiting for Common to come off the bus and Corey Smyth came off the bus.

"Corey was managing De La and Common was close with them, that’s why he was on the bus. I recognized the face, but I didn’t know where I knew him from. Then he was like, ‘Kweli, what’s up?’ I was like, ‘OK, he knows me,’ and I just went along with it.

“He’s like, ‘What are you doing out here?’ I was like, ‘I’m waiting for Common to come off the bus.’ He was like, ‘Why don’t you just come on the bus?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know him like that.’ So he was like, ‘OK, I’ll introduce you.’ And that’s how I met Corey and Common.

“Corey brought me on the bus and I played the track for Common that I wanted him to be on. It was a Hi-Tek track that ended up being a song called ‘Sharp Shooters,’ with me and dead prez. That was the track that I was originally like, ‘This is the track that me and Yasiin want you on.’ Common said he’d do it.

“Months went by and I couldn’t get in touch with him. Then there was a Gavin Music Convention in San Francisco and Common was there, he had a show at some small club. I made my way to that show and fought my way into the VIP section. When Common got off stage he saw me and was like, ‘Yo, you’re that guy who’s in the group with Mos Def.’ I was like, ‘Yes, I came to talk to you about the song.’

“He brought me on the tour bus a second time. I played him the beat and he was like, ‘I’ll try to do it when I can.’ Then another few months went by and Yasiin had a show in Chicago that he invited me to and Common was the special guest at the show. I talked to them that night about getting in the studio and Common agreed to go in the studio the next day.

“We all got in the studio the next day and neither Common nor Yasiin was feeling the beat that I chose. But the beat for ‘Respiration’ played and they both went, ‘That’s the one.’ I was like, ‘I don’t know, this other beat’s killing that beat.’ We debated and they won out. I’ll say years later that they were correct.

“The Style Wars sample on the beat was my idea. I was into interludes, skits, and all that stuff. The ‘Live from somewhere’ in ‘Definition’ and the little poem ‘Black is,’ that’s all stuff that I was watching and listening to that I brought with me to the studio like, ‘Let’s put this here.’”

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