Born in Brooklyn in 1975, Talib Kweli first gained recognition in the underground hip-hop scene as one-half of the rap duo, Reflection Eternal, alongside producer Hi-Tek. Shortly after, he started collaborating with Yasiin Bey as Black Star (named after the shipping company founded by Marcus Garvey) and co-founded the hip-hop collective, Native Tongues. Now considered one of the most lyrically gifted rappers of his era, his come-up is charted in the 2021 memoir Vibrate Higher.
Throughout his career, Kweli’s been known for his socially conscious songs and politically charged messages. He’s been a galvanizing force in social justice movements, including Occupy Wall Street and BLM, and has consistently used his platform to speak out against police brutality and racial and economic injustice. Raised in a family that valued activism and education, Kweli’s love of literature has shown through in his lyrics, with references to Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye in Black Star’s “Thieves in the Night” and Paulo Coelho’s work in his song “Mr. International.”
In fact, among Kweli’s most formative experiences was working for Nkiru Books, one of Brooklyn’s very first Black bookstores, in the mid-90s. Founded by Leothy Miller Owens in 1976, the historic shop was at risk of shuttering when Kweli and Bey (then known as Mos Def) purchased it in 1999 – revamping it into a non-profit that promoted literacy and cultural consciousness for people of color. Despite being forced to close its physical location in the early 2000s, Nkiru Books lives on at the e-commerce site Kweli Club – selling books, films, music, merch and art prints that celebrate Black excellence.
In 2019, when Kweli organized a Nkiru pop-up for the Downtown Brooklyn Arts Festival, he curated a reading list centered on individual and collective liberation. From the autobiography of Malcolm X to Paulo Coelho’s mystical masterpiece, find the five titles he recommended below, and complement with the radical bookshelves of Nipsey Hussle and Tupac Shakur.
Talib Kweli’s Reading List
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley (also rec’d by Angie Thomas, The Black Panthers, Colin Kaepernick, Emily Ratajkowski, Gabrielle Union, Howard Zinn, Ibram X. Kendi, Janelle Monáe, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Rose McGowan, Tupac Shakur, Uzo Aduba & Questlove)
“It’s a story of reinvention and loving self.” -TK
“Required reading for anyone who does movement work.” -TK
“It’s a spiritual guide that helps you unlock your inner potential.” -TK
“It helps people understand the prison industrial complex.” -TK
“It represents my worldview.” -TKt
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