Talib Kweli has been called the deepest thinker in the rap game.
Kweli started as one half of Black Star, a collaboration with Mos Def. Over the years, Kweli has worked with the likes of Kanye West, Pharrell Williams and Kendrick Lamar. Now he's touring to support his latest album, Prisoner of Conscious.
Kweli's work is socially aware and politically insightful, say critics and fans. And far-ranging. On the song "Push Thru," he raps a line about the Arab Spring.
"When I'm in the studio, I'm making music for me," said Kweli during a recent stop in Boston. "These are things that are on my mind. It not so much me trying to teach you about the Arab Spring, but it's about, if you feel the same way as I do, you can relate to me."
The title "Prisoner of Conscious" is a play on the term prisoner of conscience. And it comes from what Kweli sees as people's perceptions of him.
"Being considered a conscious rapper is a positive," said Kweli. "But any artist doesn't want to be put in a box, so it goes against my artistic sensibilities."
On the track "It only gets better," Kweli raps shout-outs to Azerbaijani activist Tural Abbasli, Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and to members of the Russian feminist, punk band Pussy Riot. He acknowledges that writing conscious rap may limit his audience. But he doesn't throw shade on more commercially successful gangsta rappers or their legions of fans.
"They may be taking away the wrong message from it, some of these newer fans, they may be taking the aggressiveness and the swagger," said Kweli. "But they are relating to those artists because of the pain inside the music."
Kweli is currently touring the US with his Prisoner of Conscious album.