Talib Kweli Breaks Down His 25 Most Essential Songs

Black Star "Thieves In The Night" (1998)

Album: Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star
Producer: 88-Keys
Label: Rawkus / Priority Records / EMI / MCA

Talib Kweli: “88 Keys was very young and starting to gain notoriety. He was living in his parents’ house. He must have been 18 years old, but he was gaining notoriety working with Q-Tip.

"He was the type of dude who would show up to every open mic, to every Lyricist Lounge, and when someone would say, ‘Does anyone have any beats that we can rap to?’ he would pull out his beat tape.

“He’s still that fucking guy. It’s funny, I watched 88 Keys go from being cool with me and Yasiin to being cool with Q-Tip to being cool with Kanye to being cool with Dilla. Whoever’s making the hottest beats, 88 Keys is next to them. That’s his shit.

 

88 Keys was the type of dude who would show up to every open mic, to every Lyricist Lounge, and when someone would say, ‘Does anyone have any beats that we can rap to?’ he would pull out his beat tape...I watched 88 Keys go from being cool with me and Yasiin to being cool with Q-Tip to being cool with Kanye to being cool with Dilla. Whoever’s making the hottest beats, 88 Keys is next to them.

 

“But he was working in his parents’ basement in Long Island. We took the Long Island Rail Road out to 88 Keys’ crib and I picked that beat. Yasiin actually wasn’t feeling that beat. He was trying to pick some other beats and I recorded a verse to that beat at 88 Keys’ crib.

“Yasiin heard my verse, and he was like, ‘I really like that verse.’ I don’t know if he had the verse written, or he wrote it then, but he laid the verse that we ended up keeping. His verse on that song is almost twice as long as mine. It was interesting because he didn’t like it at first, but then he got super inspired.

“If you listen to Yasiin’s early singles—he grew up in Islam, but he hadn’t quite embraced it fully as a man yet. When you hear ‘If You Can Huh! You Can Hear,’ or a lot of those records on Black on Both Sides, and ‘Thieves of the Night,’ Yasiin was coming fully into his realm like, ‘Okay, I’m a Muslim, and that’s what I’m gonna represent.’ Not like telling you to follow Muhammad, but trying to be spiritually in-tune and trying to live life like Prophet Muhammad.

“I’m guessing that, him being a musician, he was struggling with—just like he is now with the name change—how do you do something that’s so worldly and it leads to so much decadence? How do you reconcile your spiritual release with the type of music that we do?

"I think that’s where a lot of his subject matter was coming from. Now he’s even more like that than he was then. I’ve watched him go through spiritual growth.

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