New York rapper and activist Talib Kweli admits that marijuana is not his cause: “That’s for Cypress Hill and Curren$y and people like that,” he says. But “I enjoy marijuana every once in a while.” He may not be the most obvious person, then, to headline the National Cannabis Festival, but he is a proponent for decriminalization. He’s also been active in the opposition to President Trump: Kweli spent a week in D.C. last month meeting with people in Rock Creek Park to discuss ways to resist Trump’s agenda. “It’s important that people who are upset about Trump understand there’s been activism and grassroots work and stuff that needs to be done that existed before Trump,” he says. Ahead of his National Cannabis Festival performance at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Express spoke with Kweli about marijuana, music and more.
How did “The Seven,” your just-released collaborative album with Styles P, come together?
From the time Styles and I worked on a mixtape song back in 2004, we’ve done a lot of music together, a lot of one-off songs. For some reason, whenever I get on a track with Styles, it feels natural. Of course, me and Styles are not Black Star [Kweli’s rap duo with Mos Def], but the same way that people hear me and Mos and they say, “That sounds right,” me and Styles — we sound right together. I don’t know exactly what it is.
You were at the Kennedy Center at the end of last year to perform with Mos Def (aka Yasiin Bey) as Black Star for what were billed as his final performances.
I seriously doubt this will be the last time. When somebody like Yasiin Bey says, “I retire,” I think that means, “You don’t control me anymore.” Not that you’ll never see him onstage. I know those shows were marketed as the last Mos Def shows ever but I doubt that will be the case.
You don’t think he’s retired?
I don’t think artists can retire. I guess he technically retired the name Mos Def but he was so much more than the name.
Is there a different vibe performing at a cannabis festival?
Marijuana is so mainstream. If I’m on a plane, I’m assuming most of the people are stoned. I don’t think shows are any different.
Do you think cannabis should be legalized on a federal level?
I’m not researched enough to speak eloquently on the laws and regulations and stuff. I do believe that all drugs should be decriminalized. One of my favorite movie lines is [from 2008’s] “Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay.” There’s a scene when the rich, white stereotypical guy who works for George Bush catches his wife with a joint and he’s like, “Babe, you can’t smoke joints. Pot — that’s illegal. When you want to take the edge off just do what I do: Snort a Zoloft.”
It’s funny but that line — that joke — encapsulates so much that’s wrong with this country. Everyone in this country is a drug addict but only the drugs that the corporations and government can profit on are touted as safe and legal. Sometimes, you’re watching TV [and] every commercial is a drug commercial. How is that different from a drug deal on the corner?
RFK Stadium Lot 6/7, 2400 E. Capitol St. SE; Sat., noon-8 p.m., $35.