If Black Star's Talib Kweli had his way, the all-star record the duo helped coordinate to protest the shooting of an unarmed African immigrant by New York police last year would usher in a new era of social consciousness in hip-hop.
"That's what I would like the record to do," the 24-year-old Kweli said of the EP Hip-Hop for Respect, due April 25. "I would like the record to make some of these artists who think it's not hip or cool to be making some of these statements feel a little bit more comfortable with it."
The four-song EP's centerpiece is "One Four Love," which was produced by the Atlanta trio Organized Noize. Two versions of the song appear on the EP, each with a different set of performers.
On each, African-American rappers take turns lamenting the shooting of Guinea native Amadou Diallo in the Bronx on Feb. 4, 1999, and meditating on the issues of racial profiling and police brutality. The music takes what Organized Noize member Ray Murray called a "retro-rebellion feel," with horns, a flute and staccato drums evoking a police-chase scene.
"How can I just stand by and watch a man die for nothing and not react?" Kweli rhymes. "The way we're spitting on this track/ Is how we bust them back."
"They try to fill us with more lead than Zeppelin," his Black Star partner, Mos Def, offers as the song ends.
New York police declined to comment on those lyrics, saying official police spokesperson Marilyn Mode was unavailable.
Diallo, who was 22, was shot 19 times by officers Sean Carroll, Edward McMellon, Richard Murphy and Kenneth Boss as he stood in front of his apartment complex. The officers testified that they thought Diallo had pulled a gun; they were acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges last month.
"I wasn't surprised," Kweli said of the acquittal. "It was just a confirmation of what we all know, as young black people in this country. It's not a mystery."
Kweli appears on the first version of "One Four Love" along with Kool G Rap, Pharoahe Monch, Rah Digga, Posdnous of De la Soul, Doug E. Fresh, Sporty Thievz, Common, Shabaam Sahdeeq and Mos Def, who initiated the recording of the single. The second version includes Cappadonna, Wise Intelligent, Shyheim and Hakim and Tuffy.
"Everyone just wanted to say something and do something," Murray, 28, said. "We didn't really have a format. ... It was from the heart."
The release of Hip-Hop for Respect will coincide with a press conference and performance at Washington Square Park, according to Devin Roberson, a spokesperson for Rawkus Records. The label also plans to establish a nonprofit foundation to help support Diallo's family and antipolice brutality organizations, Kweli said.
The recording session, which took place in April 1999 in New York, attracted
dozens of reporters as well as supporters such as the Rev. Al Sharpton, Tang Clan leader RZA, and Tony! Toni! Toné! guitarist Dwayne Wiggins.
"I'm just going to remember the love, the dedication and the time these artists gave," Kweli said.
In 1989, an assortment of New York rappers including KRS-One, D-Nice, Just Ice and Public Enemy cut a single, "Self-Destruction," protesting black-on-black crime. The next year, West Coast rappers including Ice-T and N.W.A's Eazy-E answered with an anti-gang song called "We're All in the Same Gang." Such a large-scale hip-hop protest song has not been released since that time.
The Hip-Hop for Respect EP also includes "A Tree Never Grown" and "Protective Custody."
Black Star released the critically acclaimed Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star in 1998. The album was laced with messages of self-determination and racial pride, as on "Astronomy (8th Light)" (RealAudio excerpt).
Since then, the two have worked separately. Mos Def released his defiant solo debut, Black on Both Sides, in October. Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek plan to release an album called Train of Thought under the name Reflection Eternal this summer.