Talib Kweli Breaks Down His 25 Most Essential Songs

Talib Kweli "Get By" (2002)

Album: Quality
Producer: Kanye West
Label: Rawkus / Universal Music Group

Talib Kweli: “Over the months Kanye would just show up at the studio and play beats. One time he played the ‘Get By’ beat and I listened to it for about a week. I called him like, ‘I need this beat,’ and he was like, ‘That beat is on hold, both Pharoahe Monch and Mariah Carey want that beat. If Mariah or Pharaohe wants it, I gotta tell them they can have it.’ I was like, ‘Well let me know.’

“A couple of weeks went by and I kept listening to it over and over again. I think it was destiny because my mind could not get off that beat. I called Kanye and harassed him for days like, ‘Look, has Mariah called you back? I need that beat. What’s up? Can I get the beat?’ I really went hard to get that beat. Finally, after a month or two, he was like, ‘Yeah, let's do the song.’

 

Kanye was trying to get a deal on Rawkus at that time. Kanye used to be up in the Rawkus office every day but they really didn’t understand him as an artist. I am proud to say, from the first time I heard him rap, I thought he was one of the best rappers I had ever heard. I was like, ‘Why is no one feeling him?’ That’s why I brought him on tour with me.

 

“The day he said that, I wrote my two verses but I stopped at ‘Just to get by, just to get by.’ Kanye wrote the hook. I laid it and invited him to the studio to listen to it. He was like, ‘Let's give it a gospel feel and get the Harlem Boys Choir.’ I was like, ‘That’s a great idea’ and we tried to get them but they were too expensive. He ended up doing that later in his career though.

“So he wrote a hook and he was like ‘We’re gonna try to find a gospel choir,’ and he sang it. For a month or two I had a version of ‘Get By’ with Kanye singing the hook. I went to my friend Kendra Ross, who was one of my favorite singers—she’s a church-going person—and asked her to bring some of her church friends into the studio and they came and recreated what Kanye wrote.

“Kanye was trying to get a deal on Rawkus at that time. Kanye used to be up in the Rawkus office every day but they really didn’t understand him as an artist. They really wanted his beats, which is why they entertained him. From day one, the whole industry was like, ‘These beats are just incredible.’ But he would rap all the time and no one was feeling him.

“I am proud to say, from the first time I heard him rap, I thought he was one of the best rappers I had ever heard. I was like, ‘Why is no one feeling him?’ That’s why I brought him on tour with me. I was like, ‘Yo this guy’s raps are just on some other shit. He’s really good.’

“I get my props for that, but Kanye deserves those props. I didn’t do it because he was my homeboy. We didn’t even know each other like that. I did it because he was that dope and he made my show look better.”

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