Talib Kweli Breaks Down His 25 Most Essential Songs

Kanye West f/ Talib Kweli & Common "Get Em High" (2004)

Album: College Dropout
Producer: Kanye West
Label: Def Jam / Roc-A-Fella Records

Talib Kweli: “When I was working on The Beautiful Struggle, Kanye came and played me some beats. By this time he was already a very successful artist, probably one of the most successful in hip-hop. So our dynamic changed slightly. Before he would play me beats; now he was way more busy.

“He was like, ‘Yo, I don’t have any beats because I’ve been working so hard on this other stuff, but I’ll come over there and make some.’ I was just like, ‘OK you can do that, but what if what you make, I don’t like? Are we going to be able to have another session?’ He was like, ‘Don’t worry about it, I’ll come over there and make something.’

“So I watched him make the ‘Get Em High’ beat. He made it in 15 minutes. He was like, ‘Yo the hook should be like, ‘Throw, throw your motherfucker hands—get em high.’’ Which I had done as a hook previously in my career.

“I slept on the simplicity of what he was doing. I was like, ‘I don’t know, ‘Throw your motherfucking hands in the air?’ That’s not really where I’m trying to go.’ Then he was talking about smoking weed and I was like, ‘I don’t know If I wanna make the weed record. Is there something else?’ He ended up playing me some other things. I think I ended up picking ‘I Try’ in that session.

 

Where my verse starts on ‘Get Em High’ is an entire bar after where I really started it at. He didn’t edit the rhyme. He just started it a bar late...Whoever flew it in when I sent it to him, flew it in wrong. So it mathematically was on beat, but it’s definitely not how I laid it. So I was very upset. I called Kanye and I was like, ‘Yo, this is crazy. How could you do this to me?'

 

“He was like, ‘Well shit, this is hot, and if you’re not gonna fuck with it, I’m gonna fuck with it.’ A few months later he was putting the final touches on The College Dropout, and he called me and said, ‘I have to turn in this album in two days, but I cannot do this album without you being a part of it. I’ve got this song over this beat I had made for you, remember ‘Get Em High?’ I have Common on it, and I want you to come and hop on it with us, but you’ve gotta do it right now.’ I was on tour in Europe. So I went and found a studio, recorded my verse, and sent it to him, and he put it on the album.

“A couple of months later, when the album came out, I was on tour again. I told them to stop at Target so I can pick up a copy of it. I don’t do this anymore, but back then, if I was on an album, I would listen to the whole album, rather than skip to the song I’m on to hear how I fit.

“So I’m listening to the album and I’m completely blown away by it. I’m like, ‘This album’s a classic. Oh my God, this is incredible.’ I’m waiting, I’m listening, and being like, ‘I can’t wait to get to my song.’

"When ‘Get Em High’ came on, where my verse starts on ‘Get Em High,’ is an entire bar after where I really started it at. He didn’t edit the rhyme. He just started it a bar late. So it’s like, when you count to four and you’re about to rhyme like, one...two...three...four, imagine if you got to five and then you went.

“So it’s like, whoever flew it in when I sent it to him, flew it in wrong. So it mathematically was on beat, but it’s definitely not how I laid it. So I was very upset. I called Kanye and I was like, ‘Yo, this is crazy. How could you do this to me? What’s going on?’

“I was like, ‘You gotta fix it for the second print of the album.’ He’s like, ‘Yo I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do that. But that shit sounds hot.’ I said, ‘It doesn’t sound hot and I don’t rap like that. I’m way doper than how you have me sounding.’ I was just upset about it.

“Then people started calling and emailing me, telling me how much they liked it. I was very dismissive of it because I felt like people just liked it because Kanye is popular. You’re just proud of me for being on the album. If you would have heard how I really laid it, you would understand. But after a month or two I got over it, and learned to embrace the verse and embrace the happy mistakes.”

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