9:00 am Sep. 28, 2012
Rapper Talib Kweli harshly criticized Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a rally outside City Hall yesterday in support of four legislative proposals that would drastically alter police procedures in New York City.
Kweli, who's originally from Fort Greene and whom megastar Jay-Z said he idolized for his socially conscious music, said he wanted the mayor to take critics of the police more seriously.
"It's a hard job being mayor," Kweli told me. "I would like him to be not so generally dismissive of the dissatisfaction that's going on."
"The same way he stands up for the police—which he should, as mayor of this city—he should stand up for the people. He should have the courage to dialogue, like the Reverend Al Sharpton has done, like Cornell West and [other] people have done. He should pay attention. Yeah, I think he should encourage a dialogue."
Kweli dismissed criticisms made earlier by the New York police commissioner Ray Kelly about people objecting more vocally to the police department than criminals.
"Well, number one, he's misinformed," said Kweli. "And he's doing the community, the city, a disservice by randomly making a statement that's just not true ... Just because he doesn't' know about it, doesn't see it, doesn't mean it's not happening. Maybe he should investigate more and actively support who are speaking [out]. Instead of saying no one's doing it. Maybe ... he should do some research and say, 'You know what, here's an example of someone who is speaking out.'" Kweli could have been referring to himself here. For years, he's released music that's socially conscious, and critical of others who glorify bad behavior. ("These cats drink champagne / And toast to death and pain / Like slaves on a ship talking about who got the flyest chains.")
But Kweli also defended musicians who do otherwise: "As far as art, art is an expression of the people. If the people are dissatisfied, the art is going to sound dissatisfied," he said.
"It's not an artist's job, to do this," Kweli said, pointing to the stage where other speakers were addressing the rally. "It's an artist's job to be honest with themselves."
But, he said, "Our job as citizens and as people, which comes way before we're artists, is to do this."
When I asked Kweli about his own encounters with the police, he was short on details, but said that overall the experiences were unpleasant.
"I'm a grown man," said the 37-year-old rapper. "But when I was younger, I used to have to deal with the police a lot more. My son is 17 years old now, so I don't think he's had any experiences that I know of. But I dealt with the police when I was a teenager in this city, all around here, multiple times."
At one point during the rally, Kweli said the police protected property owners rather than people. When I asked him to explain why he thought that, he said, "Because of my experience with the police. My experience with the police, whether it's been being stopped on the street, whether it's me doing some nonsense that I shouldn't have been doing, whether it's warranted or not, my experiences with the police has been to be treated as second-class."
Kweli, who was kicked out of Brooklyn Tech while a student there in the 1990s and subsequently attended a boarding school in Connecticut, said, "I'm not treated as 'my tax dollars pay your salary.' I'm treated as 'You're an ant. Now get under this boot.' And so it's just personal experience."