Since Talib Kweli and Mos Def's Black Star debut in 1998, which heralded a new era for thoughtful rap, Mos Def has become the most visible of the partners in rhyme — making some wonder if the Black Star project was just a launching pad, never to be seen again.
Kweli even seemingly moved on with his next album, a collaboration with producer DJ Hi-Tek for 2000's Reflection Eternal, and his new solo album, Quality — but despite their work apart, Kweli insists that Black Star will resurface.
"The Black Star thing is just about timing," Kweli said, "not a matter of whether or not it's actually going to happen or not. It's definitely going to happen. We just got to get together and do it."
The timing is tricky, Kweli said, because Mos Def has so many acting projects now outside of music, the most recent of which is a remake of Michael Caine's 1969 British caper comedy "The Italian Job" (see "Mos Def Shooting Heist Flick In Italy With Mark Wahlberg" ). Kweli predicted that the two will collaborate again for Mos Def's next album, due in April.
"Mos has been on everything that I've put out, I've been on everything he's put out," Kweli said. "You've heard us on soundtracks and stuff together, we're always making music [together]."
Until Mos Def's schedule frees up, Kweli is content to focus on his latest solo work, Quality, and getting his record label to focus on creative strategies to market it.
"There's no longer a law that says if you get played on the radio all day, people are going to automatically run out and grab your album," he said. "I don't get radio play like that, but I stay connected with the fans with the music that I make, through the shows I do, and people respond to that. And these record companies, especially my record company, which has made itself famous by signing acts that already have a following ... whether it's GZA or Blackalicious or the Roots or Common or Mary [J. Blige] or even me and Mos Def, they need to look at what the strong suits of their artists are and creatively work at building up those strong suits, instead of just saying, 'The formula is, you get spins on the radio, you sell records.' Obviously, that formula doesn't work."
Though he's discouraged by marketing strategies that rely upon cookie-cutter formulas, Kweli remains encouraged that real-life aspects are seeping back into hip-hop and forcing labels to rethink bling bling and gangsta imagery.
"When you keep it so real that all you're doing is killing people, all you're doing is selling drugs, all you're doing is riding around on 24s, that's not reality anymore," Kweli said. "It becomes a caricature of itself, it eats itself. It's like, 'OK, now I don't believe you anymore.' Before I didn't believe MC Hammer — 'It's all good and let's just dance' — and now I don't believe you. And so when that happens, the real true artists are going to, once again, keep it real and express the realities of their lives, whether it's a Nas or a Snoop or a Jay-Z or an Eminem."
Kweli's next single is "Get By." He's currently trying to figure out the concept and director for the video, as well as possible tour plans.