Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli touched on conscious versus mainstream rap during a recent conversation with Vlad TV. The topic of conscious and mainstream rap was brought up in the discussion when Talib was asked if the rappers of today are saying anything in their lyrics.
He then revealed that in his opinion it’s hard for an artist to break into the mainstream if they have music with content. Talib later cited Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, and J. Cole as artists who have managed to have successful careers with music he says is both conscious and content-heavy.
“I think it’s real easy to get caught up in generalizing Hip Hop,” Talib said. “You know, when you say ‘rappers are.’ Most of the time when people say ‘rappers’ they’re talking about the top ten mainstream, on the radio, videos-popping-on-TV rappers. Which is actually a very small percentage of what the majority of rappers is doing. So, the rappers who have the most light on them, yes, it’s very hard for music with content to bust through.
“But at the same time we can’t just look at the problems,” he added. “We gotta count our blessing. At any given time you’ll have an artist like a Kanye with a song like ‘New Slaves’ or Kendrick or J. Cole. You’ll have artists that are delivering conscious, content-heavy music that are still finding success. And I would venture to say that those are the artists that last long. You know, you’ll have a lot of artists right now with hot records in the club that people turning up to. But you ain’t gonna be checking for these records 20 years from now. And there’s certain rappers on the charts right now that you will be checking for.”
The Black Star lyricist later recalled conscious rap being a trend, one he says was an ugly one, years ago. He also encouraged artists to avoid trends regardless of what they may be.
“There was a time when conscious rap was trendy,” he said. “When that was the trend. And that was an ugly trend, man. You had people who were not conscious at all doing cocaine, eating pork, and whatnot. Walking around with dashikis on talking about ‘black power.’ You know what I’m saying? So, a trend is never something that any artist should try to follow. You should never be conscious cause it’s a trend. You should never be gangster cause it’s a trend. You should just be who you are.”
During an interview with Vlad TV in June of last year, Talib spoke on being labeled a conscious rapper, and eventually accepting the label despite the demonization of the term.
"Clearly, other people in this business, whether it be consumers or fans, or more importantly, the labels or the media, have the need to label me and package me as a conscious artist…The conscious rapper label correctly applies to me, because I am a conscious rapper...But this industry has demonized the term 'consciousness,' and has demonized the idea of positive message and music that can move people in a different direction other than debauchery," he said.