Artists are allowed to reinvent themselves many times over. Talib Kweli, one of hip-hop’s most respected lyricists who has worked with Mos Def, Kanye West and was given hip-hop’s most infamous tip of the hat on Jay-Z’s Black Album, is enjoying one of those moments in his long career where the expectations of the past are taking a back seat. In his latest project, Kweli teams up with longtime collaborator Res, a quirky chanteuse with an edgy yet soulful sound, to form Idle Warship, subduing his patented political editorial and socially conscious pontifications to make way for fun lyrical gymnastics that is more dancefloor friendly. The duo, whose debut album Habits of the Heart came out in 2011, makes its Miami debut at the Arsht Center on Friday and will be joined by members of the Miami Symphony Orchestra. Talib Kweli gives Miami.com some details about this new chapter.
Talk about the birth of Idle Warship: How did you and Res develop the sound?
Idle Warship sounds like all of Res and my influences mixed into one. We individually became known for distinct styles but we are both influenced by the full canon of music. Warship gives an opportunity to explore those influences.
Are you surprised that Idle Warship has had such an organic success?
Well, I feel that Idle could be way more successful, but I am appreciative of the people who put preconceived notions aside and give it a chance. They are often pleasantly surprised that they like it as much as they do.
Idle Warship is a departure from previous projects. Is it liberating to make music that crosses into genres like dance and electro?
As much as I love what I’ve done in hip-hop, Idle Warship is by far the most challenging project for me, which makes it also the most liberating.
You are still prodigiously producing solo albums as well. Does the title of your latest solo project “Prisoner of Conscious” refer to your commitment to writing songs that have political resonance or to a sense of somehow feeling trapped in the role of the ‘conscious rapper’?
Yes, term Prisoner of Conscious also refers to those preconceived notions that people have. On this album I am trying to get people to not just notice my lyrical contribution but to also respect the songs and project as a whole.
Have you ever been completely surprised by what audiences are most enthusiastic about?
Audiences get excited about things that are easy to sing along with, songs that detail relatable struggles, and escapism, like songs about strip clubs and fast cars.
You’ve collaborated with a long roster of hip-hop talent (Mos Def, Kanye West, will.i.am, Common). Who do you dream of collaborating with on future projects?
Your longtime friend and collaborator Mos Def has been working hard at his acting career. Have you ever been interested in that path?
Sure, I went to acting school (Tisch at New York University), but my heart is in music.
What can we expect from an Idle Warship show?
I try not to set expectations.