“Mind if we sit here?” I looked up from my reflective scribbling and saw a legend. Not the guy talking to me, but his friend to the left. It was none other than the legendary, the one, the only Talib Kweli. I’d adored him since discovering Black Star in high school. From 14 on, I was enamored with high-level, big picture social conscious rap, to the point where I wrote my senior thesis about the Fugees.
I immediately ceased and desisted with my attempts to get photos of Kevin Corrigan (aka Community’s Professor Professorson and Michael Che on stage. The two talked about comedy as a language, the differences in writing for Daily Show vs. SNL and the phrase “screwing the pooch” (Who came up with that phrase anyway? It’d be a good sketch, insisted Michael.)
Brit Pack is like a second home to us now. Jimmy found the place one of his first weeks in NY, and the third floor SoHo apartment-turned hostel/performance art space is home to his Mouth Party Comedy Show every last Tuesday of the month. (Next one is Oct. 28.) Furnished with couches, red folding chairs and a kitchen that served as a bar, Brit Pack is the most intimate and friendly performance space I’ve seen in NYC. The ambiance made Talib and his friend’s casual presence with me in the back of the crowd all the more surreal.
Talib made his way up to the stage, and listened empathetically as Kevin stuttered through his questions to Talib, which were more like amalgamations of questions, then anticipated answers, then reflective comments and a he spun into an answer and then a story or explanation he thought Talib might appreciate. (That’s exactly how I’d be, I thought to myself, as we all watched Kevin nervously flip through pages of interview quotes and questions.) At one point, he read Talib’s lyrics back to him and shared that they’d brought him to tears. Talib looked touched.
They talked about newer rappers and established names and building movements and fighting for rights. Talib talked about his heated discussion with CNN reporter Don Lemon at Ferguson. “Maybe I’m old school in expecting (Don Lemon) to have greeted me, but I’ve been doing interviews for 20 years and that’s the first time a host hasn’t greeted me.” Lemon had disagreed with every account Talib shared about the officers’ wrong-doing without any interest in seeing his side of the issue. Che complimented Talib on managing to create a path toward conversation at the end of the interview, which is nearly impossible to accomplish these days — it’s all just shouting (talking) heads.
They talked about how brave Talib was to have gone there, and he admitted that he’d gone down there hoping to get a real sense of what was happening — not realizing he’d be put in as much danger as he was. It was sobering to hear Talib talk about the seriousness of his experience there, but invigorating to hear him talking about his satisfaction with more peaceful rebellions.
The evening was full of stories, and of well-informed perspectives, and of lots of friendly laughs. It was humbling and also thrilled to see these accomplished, well-meaning artists who had reserved a special evening out of their busy schedules to come together and talk for the sake of good conversation.
It made me want to push myself further — to express my creativity and to explore more interesting ways to connect with other passionate thinkers and to be at home in the presence of greatness and that no one is too big to sit down and talk about good ideas to change the world. It was inspiring in all the right ways.