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 kweliclub.com 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 kweliclub.com 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 ~


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