Tech Cypher: Highlights from #Tech808 Oakland

952808D9-BABC-407D-B58F-DE00AB8D5FF7This past Saturday I attended Tech808, a one-day Hip Hop inspired tech conference for minority and millennial entrepreneurs hosted by The Phat Startup. For those less familiar, The Phat Startup is an integrated media company that produces premium content for all levels of entrepreneurs with a mission to bridge the gap between Hip Hop culture, tech, and entrepreneurship. Oakland was the second stop in the 3-city tour, with the last stop in NYC.

The idea for the #Tech808 Tour emerged after having hosted more than 100 live events with notable entrepreneurs and tech magnates like Ben Horowitz, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Ryan Leslie to name a few. But it also developed from the realization that many tech conferences lacked diversity among its participants.

As an information leader, cultural worker, and creative, I find great value being in spaces where information is shared and ideas converge. I had a great time learning more about startups, meeting other conference participants (entrepreneurs and “wantrepreneurs” like myself), and thinking more deeply about my role as a creative and information professional. The value tech provides is not just in the technology itself, but the idea as well as the people (designers and users). Tracy Sun, co-founder of Poshmark will tell you quite simply that part of her success came from understanding that “technology and algorithms can’t replace people.”

Here are some of the photos with tips and quotables that I took during the event.

Tech808 Oakland Conference Program

Tech808 Oakland Conference Program

Keynote Speaker Tracy Sun (Co-Founder and VP of Merchandising at Poshmark)

Keynote Speaker Tracy Sun (Co-Founder and VP of Merchandising at Poshmark)

“Don’t give up, give your idea some room to breathe” and “Get used to the fact that you’re going to be different.” Tracy Sun, Co-Founder Poshmark

Anthony Frasier (Co-Founder, The Phat Start Up)

Anthony Frasier (Co-Founder, The Phat Start Up)

For Phat Start Up co-founder Anthony Frasier, part of Side-Hustle 101 includes “testing and validating ideas early on.” If you’re promoting your business or a product across multiple platforms “figure out what works for each platform.”

Divine - The 4th Letter (Rapper, Entrepreneur, Motivational Speaker)

Divine – The 4th Letter (Rapper, Entrepreneur, Motivational Speaker)

Divine – The 4th Letter (@4thlettermusic) was an inspiration as he shared how he was able to transform his life after incarceration, how his friendship with tech mogul Ben Horowitz developed and changed his life, and how he’s using his music to make a social impact and help others elevate. For Divine, spirituality, knowledge, perseverance, and social impact go hand in hand. His advice: “Never let anybody tell you your value. Value is what value does. Never negotiate your value.”


I call this the “Divine Cypher”. After sharing his story, a small group emerged to listen to him drop more jewels and lessons about life, spirituality, and more.


Divine speaking with one of the Tech 808 participants after his talk.


Tech 808 Digital Content Panel (seated L-R): Benoni Tagoe, Julian Mitchell, Danielle Leslie, and Morgan DeBaun

The conference also included a panel, moderated by Morgan Debaun (Founder, Blavity) on “How to Use Content to Build a Thriving Online Community” with Benoni Tagoe (Content Strategist and Founder, The Bizz Plan), Julian Mitchell (Sr. Branded Writer, BuzzFeed), and Danielle Leslie (Director of Revenue Growth, Mayvenn).

Here’s what the panel had to say when asked what it takes to make ‘good’ content and on building community:

For Danielle Leslie (@danielleleslie), knowing the right language to use, location (or the appropriate platform to place your content), and knowing people’s pain point and how you can connect is key.

Julian Mitchell (@AllAboutMitch): “A compelling story trumps quality” as well as “having a point-of-view that’s unique” that “provokes conversations” or gets to the to “the why of content” are all important.  He later encourages content creators to “Create more opportunities than you ask for. Do what you’re already doing.”

Benoni Tagoe (@nonibizz): “Content is king and consistency is queen…Collaboration is an important balance between the two. You may not be able to put out the perfect product, but the world will reward you if you follow these principles.”

Morgan DeBaun (@blavity) emphasized the importance of recycling content as your community grows as a way to introduce new readers to previous content they may not yet be familiar with.

Joah Spearman (Founder, Localeur)

Joah Spearman (Founder, Localeur)

Joah Spearman (@joahspearman, @localeur) on “How to Raise the First Million for Your Startup”

Tip #1: When raising capital start with friends and family first then explore angel network investors in your city.

Tip #2: “Raise 40% more than you think you need.”

Tip #3: Kickstarter, in his opinion, works best for tangible products

Tip #4: “Share your thoughts” and “Get used to talking about things that don’t exist yet.”


Sheen Allen (Founder, Sheena Allen Apps)

Sheena Allen (@whoisSheena) gave an insightful presentation “Build a Rockstar Mobile App Company as a Non-Techie.” With no tech background, Sheena Allen has managed to create a portfolio of popular apps with over 2.4 million downloads including PicSlit and Dubblen Split Pic, Orange Snap. Here are some of her tips for non-techies:

  • Get your idea out of your head and onto paper.
  • Find a technical co-founder or a freelancer. (though she advises to be careful when selecting freelancers)
  • Test your own app.
  • Find mentors.
  • Be optimistic, be persistent, and be creative.
  • Be strategic. Don’t do all the bells and whistles at first.

564A9EB7-DD7E-43E7-9BD9-904BBCFF25C3** Not pictured Mike Seibel (Partner, Y Combinator @mwseibel), provided his thoughts and expertise starting a tech company and how to get into YC accelerators reminding the audience that “A lot of people try, but not a lot of people make it” and “Raising money is the result of doing good work.” If you can build something in 2 weeks or less, you’re in a better position to get something into user’s hands and be able to start learning and growing.

Here is a link to the slideshow on his website that was included in his presentation.

**Also not pictured is Tiffani Bell, Co-Founder of The Detroit Water Project, which is launching as part of Y Combinator’s Winter 2015 class. As a non-profit, funds are directly paid to municipal water departments. The Detroit Water Project has received donations of more than $180,000 for water bills that have helped over 900 families in Detroit. The project has since expanded to Baltimore with plans to expand to third city, which will be announced in coming weeks. Through the Detroit and Baltimore Water Projects, Bell has been able to use utility data and her background in computer science for social good. Her advice:

  • Plan nothing. Simply put, release expectations and be flexible to change as there are likely to be several changes throughout your cycles of development.
  • Let it be ugly. The example she provided here was the original bootstrap site for the project vs. the active site).
  • Iterate. As part of the cycles of development, a startup must put out their best basic product to better gain an understanding or what works or what doesn’t work.
  • Tell a story. Every great product or company has a story. Tell a unique one.
  • Know metrics. No metrics. Basically, in order to iterate, you need to know the metrics or analytics behind your project. Know what people are gravitating towards, and what is or isn’t working.
  • Be cheap as hell! (Don’t spend a dime if you don’t have to)
Screenshot 2016-02-01 19.40.09

Digital Blackness: Googling Black History Just Got Better

Take me into the museum and show me myself, show me my people, show me soul America. – June Jordan, 1969

African American couple ca. 1950 (Photo courtesy of George Eastman Museum / Google Cultural Institute)

African American couple ca. 1950 (Photo courtesy of George Eastman Museum / Google Cultural Institute)

It’s that time again. You know, February, the month when Black churches, libraries, museums and other cultural institutions across the country host a variety of events and public programs to commemorate Black History Month. Well this year, Google has joined in the celebration with the launch of its expansive digitized collection displaying more than 5,000 works related to Black history, art, and culture via its online Cultural Institute and it’s worth EVERY click and I’m here for them all!

The collection features 80 curated digital exhibits, some of which are interactive and include video and audio clips while other images speak for themselves. Users can explore people and subjects from Frederick Douglass to Harlem Renaissance artists to even lesser known histories that we rarely hear about such as the Free Southern Theater which emerged from a Southern Black Arts Movement.

Women performers from the Free Southern Theater production "Where is the Blood of Your Fathers?" ca. 1971-1978 (Screenshot from Google Cultural Institute / physical rights of this image are retained by the Amistad Research Center).

Women performers from the Free Southern Theater production “Where is the Blood of Your Fathers?” ca. 1971-1978 (Screenshot from Google Cultural Institute / physical rights of this image are retained by the Amistad Research Center).

The collections are wide-ranging in subject matter and scope–at once a prayer and praise-song for our Blackness and a visual testament affirming our humanity– as it so vividly displays our cultural heroes as well as the everyday black person and our interpretations and explorations of Blackness through mediums such as art, literature, dance, music, even emerging technologies (see radiodee jaying, and Radio Raheem’s Boombox that is a part of the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s collection.)

Screenshot 2016-02-01 20.19.19

Katherine Dunham alongside her dance company members and actor Rex Ingram (as devil) in the Broadway production of Cabin in the Sky, which debuted in New York in 1939. (Screenshot from Google Cultural Institute. Photo by Dmitri Kessel | LIFE Photo Collection)

So what makes this project so noteworthy? TechnologyCollaboration. Digitizing collections is no small feat. As Lucy Schwartz, one of Google’s curators shared in her interview with Observer, it took them nearly a year to compile the collection. Thus, a curated project of this magnitude, expertise and detail could not have been accomplished without Google’s collaboration with over 50 institutions throughout the United States including the Smithsonian and Bancroft Library at U.C. Berkeley as well as other key repositories dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing African American history and culture like the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Amistad Research Center, Du Sable Museum, Museum of African American Art, and the Black Archives of Mid-America.

Screenshot 2016-02-01 19.53.32Going digital is an inevitable, yet time consuming and expensive endeavor, but one that many libraries, archives and historical and cultural institutions are very much interested in doing to not only increase visibility of their institution and collections, but to also create greater access to and use of their collections and to meet the information needs of their communities, both physical and online.

Features. Google Cultural Institute users not only have access to a database of images from trusted resources, users are also encouraged to become their “own curator” by creating personal collections of “art, landmarks, and historical events” and even “learn from experts” through art talks and more. Enough already, go check it out for yourself and let me know what you think!





Animating the Archive: John Coltrane On Giant Steps and Being A Force For Good

I think music is an instrument. It can create the initial thought pattern that can create a change, you see, in the thinking of the people. – John Coltrane

John Coltrane (animated gif) Source: Blank on Blank

John Coltrane (animated gif) Source: Blank on Blank

I don’t know what rock I’ve been under, but this morning I was introduced to what the present and future looks like for transmedia storytelling, digital historiography and digital archives–at least through the medium of animation while watching the PBS digital series Blank on Blank for the first time.

I’m a jazz (and Coltrane) fan and one of their recent episodes features selections from Frank Kofsky’s November 1966 interview with jazz legend John Coltrane from the Pacifica Radio Archives. In this episode Coltrane discusses his art aesthetic, the meaning of music in the human experience, Malcolm X, and his spiritual approach. One of my favorite moments was listening to Coltrane reflect on why he decided to start playing the soprano saxophone instead of the tenor. In the interview he tells Kofsky:

I didn’t want admit this damn thing because I said well the tenor’s my horn, this is my baby but the soprano, there’s still something there, just the voice of it that I can’t… It’s just really beautiful. I really like it.”

Coltrane popularized the use of the soprano saxophone in jazz, but I think this episode does well in capturing, without overemphasis, one of Coltrane’s most definitive moments–his revelation of love through pure hearing and feeling in sound. This rare interview took place less than a year before his death.

Blank on Blank is a signature series by Quoted Studios, in collaboration with PBS Digital Studios, that curates and transforms rare or unheard vintage interviews with cultural icons into animated video shorts. Together, they have delivered innovative digital content through archival interviews from American icons like Buckminster Fuller, Carol Burnett, Janis Joplin and others, including notable African Americans icons: Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson, Maya Angelou, and Barry White to name a few.

Check out the full episode with John Coltrane below. For the full animated transcript click here.

Quoted Studios is a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and sharing stories by American journalists and “finding creative ways to transform historical oral histories with cultural icons into modern digital content.”


Josephine Superstar: Phylicia Rashad Before Clair Huxtable

Phylicia (Ayers-Allen) Rashad, best known for her role as THE Clair Hanks Huxtable on the hit sitcom The Cosby Show (1984-1992), has had a successful performance career acting and singing for film, television as well Broadway. However, NOTHING says “check my resume boo!” like happening upon a vinyl cover of Rashad donning an artificial banana skirt like the great Josephine Baker while perusing the records section at a local bookstore in downtown Berkeley.

In June 1978, Rashad released the album Josephine Superstar, recorded under Casablanca Records, which was a disco/funk concept album that tells the life story of Josephine Baker. I always knew Phylicia Rashad could sing, but I’m thankful for this colorful reminder.

Hi Phylicia!

Check out this YouTube video of Ms. Rashad singing Josephine Baker’s famous “J’ai Deux Amours” [I Have Two Loves].

Here is a video of Baker singing “J’ai Deux Amours” in 1937 (“J’ai deux amours” was first recorded by Baker in 1930).


Why Eric Edwards and #BlackMuseumsMatter

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 12.06.34 PM

Screenshot of Kickstarter project by Eric Edwards for the Cultural Museum of African Art in Brooklyn, NYC.

A few weeks ago I shared an incredible story, first published by Gothamist, about Eric Edwards, an African American art collector in Brooklyn, NY. For more than 44 years, Edwards has single-handedly amassed a distinctive collection of African art–estimated to be worth more than $10 million. The Eric Edwards Collection is considered to be one of the largest collections of African artifacts owned by any private collector in the U.S.

For years, Edwards has managed to successfully preserve this collection (over 2,500 artifacts spanning 4,000 years) in his Brooklyn apartment with hopes of opening The Cultural Museum of African Art Eric Edwards Collection in Brooklyn, New York sometime in 2016. Here’s the kicker (literally). A Kickstarter campaign was launched by Edwards with a goal of raising $35,000. So far, the campaign has reached $7,743 and now has only TEN days left to reach this goal. You, who know the rules of Kickstarter, know that this project will not receive a dime if they do not raise the full $35,000 by July 25, 2015.

How unfortunate that will be! I happen to like the idea of people coming together and supporting Black cultural institutions and people like Eric Edwards. In fact, there is no better time than now, especially given the Black Lives Matter movement, to not only affirm Black humanity, but to also affirm Black cultural institutions that reside in and service our communities.

I would like to pause and note that it was during the Black Power and Black Arts Movements in the 1960s and 1970s that a Black Museum Movement was born. Across the nation, Black museums, libraries and other cultural institutions emerged as a critical and necessary response to persistent racial inequality and blatant disregard, neglect, misrepresentation and misappropriation of Black history and culture by white institutions, public history sites, and in textbooks. Black museums sought to empower and engage their communities through the power of telling our own stories.

Eric Edwards is indeed a present and constant reminder that one of the most valuable ways to affirm our humanity is by studying and preserving our past, and sharing our history with the rest of the world through our museums and cultural institutions– #BlackMuseumsMatter — Affirmative.

To learn more about Eric Edwards or donate to this amazing project please check out the following links and be sure to share:

Eric Edwards CMAAEEC Kickstarter Campaign

Eric Edwards Kickstarter Project
**501(c)3 -Contributions are Tax Deductible

Relative Links / Additional Information

NBC TV Nightly National News July 5, 2015 6:30 PM

Essence Magazine –

Black Enterprise Magazine –

Brooklyn Magazine –

Barcroft Media –

New York – London –Kenya – news agencies – newspapers – TV Stations – Magazines worldwide – *Billion viewers

Agence France Presse (AFP) Inernational Global News Agency

French, Spanish Countries – Europe – Asia – Africa Coverage

Feature Story News (FSN) International Broadcast News Agency – South Africa – Nigeria – African Continent

Screen shot of the Schomburg Center from The Progress Makers doc series (Paid Post by citi from the NY Times)

Schomburg at 90: Progress Makers Docu-Series Highlights Schomburg Research Center

There’s something about this institution that when you walk through these doors you stand up a little bit straighter, you know that you’ve come from something bigger than you, something that is rich and something that is regal.
– Gina Nisbeth, Director of Community Capital at Citi

Screen shot of the Schomburg Center from The Progress Makers doc series (Paid Post by citi from the NY Times)

Screen shot of the Schomburg Center from The Progress Makers doc series (Paid Post by citi from the NY Times)

The Schomburg Center, now in its 90th anniversary year, is one of the world’s leading research centers devoted to the preservation and dissemination of materials on African-American, African Diaspora, and African experiences around the world. While some people may not be as familiar with the legacy of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg and the Schomburg Center’s significance, you can learn more here and by checking out episode 2 of Progress Makers, which features the Schomburg Center.

Screen shot from Citi Progress Makers Gina Nisbeth with Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad

Gina Nisbeth with Schomburg Director Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad (Screen shot from Progress Makers)

Screen shot from Citi Progress Makers doc of Gina Nisbeth, Director of Community Capital at Citi, observing photograph from Schomburg collection.

Screen shot from Citi Progress Makers doc of Gina Nisbeth, Director of Community Capital at Citi, observing photograph from Schomburg collection.

Progress Makers is a short doc series by Citi Group that sheds light on how they use innovative financing to preserve American historical sites, restore natural habitats, and share unique cultural stories. This episode was sponsored by Gina Nisbeth, Director of Community Capital at Citi, who shares how the Schomburg Center has impacted her life and the community.

It also features interviews with Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Schomburg Center’s Director, along with Shola Lynch, Curator of Moving Image & Recorded Sound, and other curators and volunteers who discuss the collections, what the Schomburg Center means to them, and their passion to continue the mission and legacy set forth by Arturo Schomburg.

Father and daughter at Artist Talk with Kenturah Davis at Papillion Art Gallery | Photo by Danielle Hall (2014)

5 African American Museums/Galleries You Should Visit in LA

“Take me into the museum, and show me myself, show me my people, show me soul America.” – June Jordan (1969)

Father and daughter at Artist Talk with Kenturah Davis at Papillion Art Gallery | Photo by Danielle Hall (2014)

Father and daughter at Artist Talk with Kenturah Davis at Papillion Art Gallery | Photo by Danielle Hall (2014)

Los Angeles is a known for many things: Hollywood, celebrities, fashion, beaches and palm trees, five-star restaurants as well as its reputation as the “Creative Capital of the World,” but it is also a city that is full of history and community. Thinking back to a voicemail my friend Jenell left me a while ago thanking me for showing her a different side of LA that’s not “superficial,” I wanted to share some of that here — especially since I’m in a city with a population around 3.9 million where nearly 48% of the population is Hispanic or Latino, nearly 50% is white, an estimated 13% is Asian, and Black/African Americans account for roughly 9% of the population.

And despite the fact that Black/African Americans make up 13% of the national population, according to James Heaton, African Americans only account for 3% of museum attendees nationwide. I believe that number is growing among black millennials, but still that’s a huge gap.

There’s a lot of history and culture to be explored here, and more specifically there is a great deal of black history and grassroots arts movements that are integral to the cultural, political and social landscape of LA as we know it today. As an indie historian and information professional, it’s critically important to know that in this vast city there are important cultural sites where black art, history and culture are not only thriving, but are well-documented, preserved, supported, and available for multicultural audiences to learn and experience.

No shade to LACMA, Hammer, or The Getty, but I highly recommend adding these 5 sites to your “places to visit” list:

1. Papillion Art is a contemporary art gallery founded in 2010 by gallerist and art dealer Michelle Joan Papillion. Papillion Art Gallery is a multicultural arts space with a strong focus on emerging artists. It is an important site to visit if interested in contemporary works by artists in all media, and especially works by African American and Los Angeles based artists. Located in the historic Leimert Park neighborhood, Papillion Art Gallery occupies the space that was once home to Brockman Gallery, LA’s first black-owned commercial art gallery that emerged during the Black Arts Movement during the 1960s and 70s. Leimert Park Village is considered the center of historic and contemporary African American art and culture in LA.

2. The Museum of African American Art (MAAA) is a hidden treasure in one of the most unlikely spaces you’d expect to find a museum– the 3rd floor of Macy’s at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. Don’t let the walk past the bedding section in Macy’s Home department fool you, this is an abundant space with a remarkable collection of African American art including 40 original paintings by Palmer C. Hayden, one of the leading artists of the Harlem Renaissance, in its permanent collection.  Founded in 1976 by artist and art historian Dr. Samella Lewis and a diversified group of community leaders, their goal was to promote and support African American artistic expression. The MAAA operates solely from the support of individual and corporate donors, event rentals, and memberships.

3. The Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum (MCLM) is located in the old Culver City Courthouse and continues the mission and legacy of Dr. Mayme Agnew Clayton (1923-2006), was an academic librarian, collector, and historian. For more than 40 years, Dr. Mayme Clayton single-handedly amassed a collection that has been described as “one of the most academically substantial collections of African-American literature, manuscripts, film and ephemera independently maintained” and is second only to New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The MCLM includes 25,000 magazines, 20,000 books, 17,000 photographs, 1,000 pieces of sheet music, 700 films and 300 movie posters and counting. Dr. Clayton began her library career working at USC’s Doheny Library and later as a law librarian at UCLA. At UCLA she served as a consultant and founding member of the Afro-American Studies Center Library.

“I wanted to be sure that children would know that black people have done great things and at the time I didn’t see anyone else saving the history.” – Dr. Mayme A. Clayton

In 1975, MCLM began as the Western States Black Research Center (WSBRC) in the converted garage of Dr. Clayton’s Los Angeles home. It drew a diverse crowd of visitors throughout the state of California and the United States, as well as visitors from Asia, Africa, and Europe. In her lifetime, Dr. Clayton was able to acquire thousands of rare and out-of-print books (more than 30,000 books written by or about African Americans in the collection), including a rare first-edition signed copy of Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral (1773), the first book of poetry published by an American female author of African descent. In addition, Dr. Clayton was able to acquire the entire film library of Lincoln Motion Picture Company, the first black film production company organized by Black filmmakers, as well as the photo “morgues” from local black newspapers–all of these items were duly catalogued by Dr. Clayton and became a part of the collection.

4. California African American Museum (CAAM) is located in Exposition Park right across from the University of Southern California (USC) and is easily accessible via the Metro Expo Line. CAAM was chartered by the State of California and began formal operations in 1981. Its current facility was designed by two African American architects, Jack Haywood and the late Vince Proby and boasts a 44,000 square foot facility with 3 full-size exhibition galleries, a theater, a research library that houses more than 20,000 books, periodicals, and records, and conference/multi-purpose rooms, an accession room, and a humidity controlled vault for art and artifact storage (that’s important!). Visitors can expect to engage art that reflects the rich and complex history of African Americans in California and throughout the African Diaspora. CAAM’s permanent collection includes traditional African wooden sculpture art and masks; contemporary art works from Haiti, Jamaica, and Brazil by François Turenne Des Prés, Justino Marinho, Hector Hyppolite, and Renee Constant; Modern and Contemporary works by Sargent Claude Johnson, Betye Saar, Charles White, and David Hammons to name a few as well as works by African American Los Angeles based artists.

5. The William Grant Still Arts Center (WGSAC) is named after the highly acclaimed African American classical composer William Grant Still (1895-1978), who conducted musical arrangements for W.C. Handy and Harlem stride pianist, James P. Johnson, played in the pit orchestra for Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake in the African American musical revue, Shuffle Along (1921), and wrote over 150 music compositions in his lifetime. Still was once a resident of the West Adams neighborhood where the center is located. The WGSAC, formerly an old fire station, was erected in 1926 and later transformed into a community arts center complete with exhibition space in the main rotunda, meeting rooms, offices, kitchen, and an outdoor patio/amphitheater through a joint collaboration with the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA), the West Adams community and local Council District 10.

Talib Kweli at spoken word event at historic Nkiru Books in Brooklyn, NY [circa 1998-99].

Hip Hop Literati: Talib Kweli Relaunches Nkiru Books Online

Talib Kweli |Photo Credit: Dorothy Hong

Talib Kweli | Photo Credit: Dorothy Hong

In case you haven’t heard, Hip Hop artist and social justice activist Talib Kweli has started an online book club via his site. I learned about this while scrolling through my instagram timeline and coming across an image of Kweli holding two books by bell hooks–one of my favorite writers/intellectual sheroes–with the hashtag #KweliBookClub.

For longtime Kweli fans, however, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Kweli has often shared his personal experiences, which include being raised by parents who worked in universities and who instilled in him at an early age an appreciation for books and reading, a sense of cultural pride, and encouraged his constant quest for knowledge. As a teen, Kweli worked at a local bookstore, but his deep concern over the lack of black literature available led him to craft a pitch that landed him his part-time position at Brooklyn’s first Black independent bookstore, Nkiru Books, founded by Leothy Miller Owens.

Talib Kweli at spoken word event at historic Nkiru Books in Brooklyn, NY [circa 1998-99].

Talib Kweli at spoken word event at historic Nkiru Books in Brooklyn, NY [circa 1998-99].

Black bookstores, like the historic Nkiru, have long functioned as safe havens and cultural institutions within Black Diaspora communities across the United States. Some may even remember back in 1998 when Kweli and Mos Def (now Yasiin Bey) purchased Nkiru, which had fallen under major financial distress. Their joint investment and fundraising efforts helped secure Nkiru’s relocation and transformed the bookstore into the Nkiru Center for Education and Culture, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting literacy and faciltating cultural awareness for people of color through a variety of events and programs including literacy projects, hosting open mic and spoken word poetry sessions, lectures/speaker series, and selling titles by African, Latino and Caribbean writers as well as children’s books. IMG_5506

Over the span of his career, now in its twentieth year, Kweli has developed a reputation for more than his off-beat rhyme delivery and introspective lyrics, but is also credited for being one of Hip Hop’s more outspoken sons with a tendency to name-drop in his music, with lyrical references to books such as The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison in “Thieves in the Night,” Octavia Butler and Parable of the Sower in “Ms. Hill,” The Souls of Black Folks by W.E.B. Du Bois in Gun Musicand The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho in “Mr. International” to name a few. In 2007, poet Sonia Sanchez, whose writings emerged during the Black Arts Movement, appeared on the beginning of “Everything Man” from Kweli’s third solo album, Eardrum.

There’s a reason why a Goodreads book list entitled, “Books Referenced by Talib Kweli” is circulating online. Kweli has embodied hip hop culture and has used his platform to educate, advocate, influence, and to fight against injustice and police brutality.

For fans that have been rockin’ with Kweli since his first appearance on Doom (1997), the debut album of hip hop group Mood; or since his early career collaborations with DJ Hi-Tek as Reflection Eternal and with Mos Def as Black Star; or perhaps since his critically acclaimed “Get By” from his debut album, Quality (2003), Kweli has established a distinctive voice and personalized (digital) learning community for his loyal listeners and those who support his career by purchasing his music, apparel, and now books through him directly. No more middle man. After your first purchase, you gain full membership and are added to Kweli’s personal address book, where he encourages interaction:

Imagine me being able to look up every member of my fanbase on my iPhone and actually know who they are on a personal level. This is the dream I’ve always had. To be able to actually recognize you at the meet & greet. To be able to actually know how you were feeling yesterday because I’m following you on Instagram and Twitter. That’s why I’ve started this club.

IMG_5508I remember when fan clubs were simply post office boxes where you could send mail and only hope your letter or whatever you sent reached a certain artist. What a difference technology and twenty years makes.

The #KweliBookClub contains an attractive and well-curated collection of titles, including auto/biographies, poetry, fiction, and plenty of works on Hip Hop. It also includes one of my favorite children’s books, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe, literally one of my childhood favorites.

If you’re looking for quality books to add to your bookshelf, from a trusted reader and MC, be sure to check out and hashtag your #KweliBookClub purchase(s) to share what you’re reading and learning!

~  this post was written while listing to karma by Mood & DJ Hi-Tek ~