Album: The Beautiful Struggle
Producer: Just Blaze
Label: Rawkus / Geffen Records
Talib Kweli: “Okayplayer—that whole crew and that community, especially the people that run Okayplayer—have been instrumental in my success and have one of the most supportive people. Way before anyone was on the Internet—way before I even understood the power of it—Okayplayer was on the Internet waving my flag.
“That line on ‘Get ’Em High’ where I’m like, ‘Always got something to say like a Okayplayer hater,’ comes from the fact that I didn’t understand the power of it. As far as blogs and chat rooms and all that, I didn’t really get into any of that until Myspace came out.
“Prior to that, I didn’t care what was going on on the Internet. I knew that the Internet was a useful tool for me, I knew that I had a lot of fans on the Internet, but I just couldn’t see myself spending time in cyberspace. I felt like I had real things to do.
I was working hard on my album and I’m arguing with my label. I was frustrated with everything that’s going on. Then, lo and behold, some kid puts my whole album on the Internet.
“So when I was working on Beautiful Struggle I didn’t realized how prolific the internet had gotten at stealing music. There was a new type of mentality with fans like, ‘I deserve to get all of your music for free.’ That’s not the way I grew up and that’s not how I approach my love for music.
“I was working hard on my album and I’m arguing with my label Interscope. At this point Geffen had gotten swept up by Interscope and I was frustrated with everything that’s going on.
"Lo and behold, some kid finds my CD, or I don’t know how it happened, and he puts my whole album on the Internet. This was in February. The album didn’t come out until September. So that leaked almost a whole year early.
“What I did, not understanding the beast that the Internet, I went off on this kid and wrote a two-page, profanity-laced letter, that I posted on Okayplayer, like, ‘Fuck this kid.’ What I didn’t understand was, a lot of people looked at people who leaked music as heroes because they liberated the music from ‘The Man.’
“I got a backlash that I had never received. This was the first time I received any real backlash in my career. I made the mistake in thinking every music fan was like me, that they were into supporting the artist.
“When I wrote that letter, I wrote it with the feeling that everybody was gonna rally behind me and that’s not what it was. Some people rallied behind me, but a lot of people were like, ‘Yo, you’re bugging.’
“So that was like a wake-up call to me. I still don’t agree with people taking music and putting it out for free if it’s not released. Once I put on a bar code and put it for sale, if you wanna steal it, that’s on you. That’s your karma.
What I did, not understanding the beast that the Internet, I went off on this kid and wrote a two-page, profanity-laced letter, that I posted on Okayplayer. What I didn’t understand was, a lot of people looked at people who leaked music as heroes because they liberated the music from ‘The Man.’ I got a backlash that I had never received. This was the first time I received any real backlash in my career.
“I think it’s extra wack to take something that clearly an artist is still working on because you want hits on your page or you wanna seem cool. That’s just the wackest, most bitch-ass shit ever to me.
"But even though I feel like that, that’s the world we live in today. So for me to complain about it, it’s like, No—you just gotta adapt. You gotta give it out for free before they get a chance to do that.
“Meanwhile, when I was on Rawkus, we worked at Cutting Room studios, years before anyone had heard of this place. Just Blaze was known as Justin the intern at Cutting Room. He was the guy that set up and engineered sessions.
“He was that guy that if you’d be there at four in the morning, he would be there. He would just be there all of the time. I didn’t even realize Just Blaze was Justin from Cutting Room until way deep into his career. Once I realized that, I realized I had a connection with him and was like, he’s one of my favorite producers, I might as well utilize this connection.
“At that point he was doing a lot of big, beautiful records with Roc-A-Fella. I would see him around town. I went to see him at Baseline a couple of times and didn’t pick anything, but then he sent me that beat and I was like, Word.”