Before performing in Cape Town and Joburg, hip hop artist Talib Kweli spoke to Helen Herimbi about being rhythmically challenged, Black Star and the Kardashians.

Talib Kweli can’t dance. At least that’s what he believes. Never mind that he does a little two-step on his ground-breaking Hot Thing video, the US hip hop veteran doesn’t consider himself the best on the dance floor.

We get to discuss this on a hot Joburg day, before the nationwide Sprite Uncontainable competition finals that saw six hopefuls compete in three disciplines of the hip hop culture: rapping, graffiti and b-boying.

“I got into hip hop because of the lyrics and the emceeing,” Kweli tells me. “I grew up in New York City, but never had a tag (not a graffiti artist), I’m not very rhythmic, I’m not a good dancer at all.”

“I grew up appreciating b-boys and graffiti because I grew up seeing b-boys in the street and graffiti on the trains and subways and that’s something that’s part of me. But I got into it because I was writing poetry instead of lyrics.”

Kweli subsequently became one of the most prominent voices in hip hop in the 1990s through his seminal album, Reflection Eternal, with DJ, producer and sometimes-rapper, Hi-Tek. After that, he joined forces with the mighty Mos Def (who is now known as Yasiin Bey) for the classic, Talib Kweli and Mos Def are Black Star album.

In between his solo albums and collaboration projects with everyone from Madlib to Res, this artist also associated with rappers like Common. Because of that, Kweli was quickly filed under the “conscious” rapper label – a title that is shunned by the people it refers to.

It’s with this in mind that he approaches his forthcoming album, Prisoner of Conscious. The solo album that will release next month “speaks to the perception people have of me as an artist versus the artist I truly am Sometimes people get caught up in their perception of an artist and don’t actually listen to what an artist is actually doing on the record.”

“People get so caught up in ‘he’s lyrical and there’s knowledge and smart and intelligent’ they don’t notice the musical choices. I want to focus more on that my music makes people feel good and less on how it makes them think. Thinking is good, but that’s the gravy. How it makes people feel is the meat and potatoes.”

Prisoner Of Conscious saw Kweli work with Sarah George and Brazil and even shoot a video for High Life during his visit to South Africa because he wanted to convey the “musical choices that are less industrial and underground hip hopish and let the full scope of music that I appreciate live and breathe on the album.”

The lead single off the new album is Distractions, a song that was inspired by Tahir Square and the Occupy Wall Street Movement. On the song, he says: “How you keeping up with my rapping? You’re barely keeping up with the Kardashians.”

So, naturally I had to ask. He laughed and said: “To be honest, I don’t know enough about the Kardashians to have a favourite. The mom would be my favourite because she’s the original and I’m always a fan of the OG.”

Kweli’s not a fan of Kim and ’em, or of listening to his own music, it seems. I spoke to the rapper in the 14th anniversary week that the classic Black Star album was released.

“If it wasn’t for social net-working then I probably wouldn’t even know,” he said with a serious face. “I don’t commemorate the anniversaries of albums, but if someone hips me to it then I’m like: ‘Oh, yeah’. Once I put an album out, I never go back. The only songs of mine I listen to are the ones I have to perform on stage.”

Well, the Cape Town and Joburg audiences weren’t complaining.

This article appeared in Tonight on 5 September 2012.