Talib Kweli talks ‘conscious rap’ at Stockton Hip Hop Summit 2017


For the fourth time in 10 years, Stockton University hosted its Hip Hop Summit, which this year focused on using the conscious rap movement to raise societal awareness.

Keynote speaker and Brooklyn-based rapper Talib Kweli served as a human hip-hop encyclopedia Thursday on the Campus Center Theatre stage as he talked about musical influences from KRS-One to Nas to NWA.

“I love this music. I do it for the love. If I couldn’t do it, I would die,” Kweli said.

This year’s theme was “Stay Woke: Using Hip Hop as a Tool for Consciousness Raising.”

Professor Donnetrice Allison, who coordinates the event with her Intro to Hip Hop Culture class, said many professors teaching today grew up with hip-hop, so it makes sense to talk about it in an educational setting.

“You can listen to one hip-hop song and have a two-hour discussion about it,” she said.

Kweli said although hip-hop grew from a small fraternity to a mainstream genre, younger artists may shy away from using rap to be political. In the 1990s, hip-hop artists including Tupac and Nas, and later the Fugees, Common and the Roots, were able to weave in political messages seamlessly, Kweli said.

Then, what Kweli called “tough guy rap” became popular, but Kweli said he stayed attracted to the conscious rap artists.

“I focused more on being a musician than the purity of the art form,” he said.

Kweli said he wanted to do more than just make songs about the struggle.

“I had done that for years, but I could do better,” he said. “Even the strongest mind can be seduced by convenience.”

As the Black Lives Matter movement came to the forefront after the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, Kweli began to get involved on the front-lines, he said.

Kweli said he uses that first-hand knowledge to further his lyricism.

One audience member asked Kweli how important he thought it was for artists to be role models. Kweli said artists have one responsibility, and that is to produce honest art.

“I think we have to be fair to young people who are first discovering hip-hop,” he said, noting misogyny, murder and drugs were always a part of rap. “We romanticize it because nostalgia makes it feel like things are warmer to our heart.”

The event Thursday included panel discussions on student perspectives on the state of hip-hop and reflections on the local rap scene. There were freestyle demonstrations and performances.

Stockton student radio personality Sa’Niyah Wright, 19, of Glassboro, said hip-hop songs talk about issues that aren’t talked about in other genres, so it’s important to discuss the influences behind those songs.

“Conscious rap is going more mainstream with rappers like J. Cole, Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar,” Wright said. “It needs to be more than just them.”

Cristian Bucio, 24, of Atlantic City, doesn’t attend Stockton but wanted to be a part of Thursday’s event as a hip-hop fan.

“Conscious rap deserves some help,” Bucio said. “It’s a good movement right now.”

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