Talib Kweli to play free MySpace charity show, readies new album, 'Gutter Rainbows'
Talib Kweli is giving his fans something to be thankful for, and all for a good cause.
The Brooklyn-bred emcee is pairing a live MySpace preview of his new album, "Gutter Rainbows," with a charity drive to raise goods for the homeless tonight at the Roxy.
All fans need to do to get into the pre-Thanksgiving show is bring a blanket, scarf or canned good.
Kweli said he wanted to send a message with the show, one that as the holiday sales season swings into full gear would send chills through any major label brass.
“We wanted to do the show in a way that was conducive to my fans,” said Kweli, 36. “MySpace was willing to give me a Thanksgiving show where we could do it for free. This way the focus is on the people, and on the music -- not on who is getting paid.”
“There is a classic feel to it. A lot of this album is the sounds that I loved growing up. I like the new hip-hop stuff, the new sound that’s out right now: the whole hard, spacey, R&B-ish hip-hop sound that’s going on right now,” Kweli said. “I really like that. I think it’s great. But, I wanted to do an album that was closer to the sounds that I liked growing up.”
The digital-only release, which he will put out on his own imprint, Talibra, after departing Warner Bros. Records, was a “necessary experiment” for him, he says, especially given the industry’s current climate.
“I’ve been on labels for my entire career. This is the first time I’m doing something like this. It’ll be interesting to see what the response is and how much I’m able to promote my own product without the machine,” he says.
“Gutter Rainbows” comes at a crucial time for Kweli. In the last few years, he’s walked the line between underground emcee and commercial artist, and he says he’s finally found a way to strike a balance.
Although known for acclaimed collaboration projects with Mos Def and Hi-Tek, he was marred by fan criticism after 2004’s “The Beautiful Struggle” was deemed too mainstream. His last solo disc, 2007's “Eardrum,” debuted at No. 2 on Billboard’s 200 charts, logging nearly 60,000 copies in its first week. Although it was his highest debuting album to date and featured Justin Timberlake and Norah Jones, he still hears gripes about “The Beautiful Struggle.”
“It’s my fans' least favorite album, but it’s an album I’m very proud of. Their experience with me was Reflection Eternal and 'Blackstar,' ” he recalls. “People who were introduced to me as sort of an anti-establishment artist, to come out with an album that has Mary J. Blige on it, Pharrell on it, and being sold as Kweli’s commercial album, it created a backlash that I felt the album itself didn’t deserve.”
That tip-toeing between both worlds, Kweli said, has led to confusion when it comes to radio play. But he’s not worried about his records getting spins, as long as he has the respect of his fans and peers.
“I feel like I get what I’m owed from artists and from true fans. I don’t get it from the fickle Top 40 fans, who are checking for whatever’s on the radio right now, and will like me when I have something out that’s cracking,” he said. “But I don’t need them because when I open Jay-Z’s book and he talks about me and Common being the best technical emcees and people on the street recognize that, then that’s love. I have a lot of respect for my peers and the people who are into the music for real.”
Kweli recently released the album's first single, "Cold Rain," online.
Talib Kweli, with Strong Arm Steady, Tunji and Jayson Rose, at the Roxy; 9 p.m. Tickets are free with a canned good, blanket or scarf donation.
-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photo: Talib Kweli. Credit: Courtesy of Duck Down Records