Goapele (pronounced gwa-puh-LAY) means “to move forward” in Sitswana, a South African dialect.
Goapele Mohlabane started singing as a child, and at age 14 she joined the Oakland Youth Chorus. After high school, she decided to pursue music as a professional career and enrolled in the Berkley College of Music in Boston. After that, she worked with San Francisco musicians and artists, then went on to record on both east and west coasts of the United States to record her self-released debut album, Closer.
After this release, she formed Skyblaze Recordings with her brother Namane to oversee her musical career. Her first nationally distributed album, Even Closer, an expanded version of her debut album, was initially released through Hieroglyphics Imperium until Columbia picked her album up for worldwide distribution and signed her to a recording contract. Even Closer was rereleased with extra tracks, and, in 2005, her second album, Change it All was released, focusing on the activism in which she had been involved since she was a child.
Talib Kweli (DJ Set)
Ever since emerging as a member of Black Star in the late 1990s, Talib Kweli is one of the few artists making commercially viable music that matters. The Brooklyn bred rapper's hard-hitting music has been able to educate and entertain simultaneously. So it is no wonder that at the peak of their fame, both Jay-Z and 50 Cent named Talib Kweli as one of their favorite rappers.
With Ear Drum, his first album released on his own Blacksmith Music and his sixth album overall, Kweli has delivered his career-defining work, a polished collection showcasing his advanced lyricism and his penchant for picking music that resonates long after the song ends. "The image of the ear and of the drum are powerful enough by themselves, but when you put them together, it's an instrument that's in your body that helps you hear," he explains. "They're also two very simple, yet powerful words. I wanted to focus on finding a sound that makes you move, and that's where the word 'Ear Drum' popped in my head."
Throughout Ear Drum, Kweli delivers powerful music that sparks your intellect and makes your body move. He teams with Reflection Eternal partner Hi-Tek on "More Or Less." Over pounding drums and a minimalistic groove, Kweli makes brash declarations on how to improve music specifically and American society in general. "A statement like, we need 'more rap songs that stress purpose/With less misogyny and less curses/Let's put more depth in our verses,' I haven't made bold, blatant statements since that like 'Manifesto.' There are fans of mine that really appreciate those statements because there are times when those statements need to be made."
An equally bold Ear Drum moment comes on "Country Cousins," which features Kweli trading verses with UGK and Raheem DeVaughn. Over a soulful beat accented by brassy horns, Kweli, Bun B and Pimp C talk about the reality of their experiences growing up in New York and Texas, respectively. "People have the perception of what an East Coast artist sounds like, who he's supposed to be listening to and what he likes, and what a Down South artist sounds like," Kweli explains. "There's preconceived notions and that's really what the song with Bun and Pimp C is about, the preconceived notions between East Coast artists and Down South artists."
Throughout Ear Drum, Kweli makes a point to explore new topics, collaborate with a variety of artists and rap over distinctively innovative production. It is part of Kweli's growth as an artist and as a person. "We need to challenge our audience but we also need to challenge ourselves to know that whatever our new experiences are, we can write about them, be creative and bring that to an audience without them feeling alienated," he says.
Long-time Talib Kweli followers will say the same thing about him. Since his stellar debut with Mos Def as Black Star, Kweli has been one of rap's most exceptional and consistent artists. Released in 2000, Reflection Eternal, the RIAA-certified gold album with Hi-Tek, was one of the most acclaimed albums of the year. In 2002, smash single "Get By," the biting political commentary "The Proud" and the insightful examination of America's gun culture on "Gun Music" made Quality a landmark recording and Kweli's second gold album. Subsequent recordings in 2004 (The Beautiful Struggle) and 2005 (Right About Now) solidified his status as one of rap's most talented and important voices.
Now, after establishing himself as a rap visionary, Kweli along with long-time manager Corey Smyth launched Blacksmith Music. The pair signed an exclusive deal with Warner Bros. to market, promote, and distribute the music of Blacksmith artists. Following Kweli's release on Blacksmith/WBR there will be a new solo album from Jean Grae, the critically acclaimed South African-born female rapper who is among the most respected female rappers in the history of the genre. Rolling Stone called her "the best kept secret on New York&..39;s indie hip-hop scene," while XXL, Spin, Village Voice, URB and others have labeled her an artist to watch. Strong Arm Steady, a forthcoming Blacksmith/WBR release, is a super group whose members are platinum rapper and Pimp My Ride host Xzibit, Los Angeles underground star Phil The Agony, lyrical assassin Krondon and San Diego rap pioneer Mitchy Slick. Strong Arm Steady has been one of the few West Coast acts to build a rabid fanbase through mixtapes.
Kweli hopes Blacksmith will create a movement with Jean Grae and Strong Arm Steady, much as his own music has. "With Blacksmith, I want it to be a flag that everyone can wave," he says. "I want to be packing shows and I want people to feel like they were up on Jean Grae and Strong Arm Steady before anybody else was."
In the mean time, the lyrically and sonically potent Ear Drum demonstrates that strong, powerful messages can serve as the backbone for music at its best. "The vast majority of my subject matter focuses on black self-love, black self esteem, black self worth," Kweli says. "That translates to other communities because if you're a human being, it doesn't matter what color you're talking about. You've been through some sort of struggle and you can apply it to your own life."
The Brooklyn-based rapper earned his stripes as one of the most lyrically-gifted, socially aware and politically insightful rappers to emerge in the last 20 years. His travels around the globe as one of rap's most in-demand performers combined with his conversations with political activists and his genre-straddling work with Idle Warship and others caused Kweli to realize that he was limited in a sense, a prisoner of sorts of his own success as one of the world's best rappers with something significant to say.
"My music has been associated with those types of causes, with positivity, spirituality, intelligence and being thought-provoking and such," he says. "I think sometimes people get caught up in that part of me as an artist and don't necessarily understand the musicality or fully appreciate the music and the entertainment value behind what I do. I tried to stretch my wings a little bit and bring something that was less beholden to the world of hip-hop and more existing in the world in general."
The result of this artistic growth and exploration arrives with Kweli's dynamic Prisoner Of Conscious AKA P.O.C., an artistic tour de force that signals the start of the next chapter of Kweli's remarkable career. The BK MC spent more time working on Prisoner Of Conscious than any of his other albums, a three-year journey that found him exploring new vibes, joining in some unlikely collaborations and taking him to foreign lands.
Produced by Symbolyc One (Kanye West, Ghostface), the title track's alternatively rap and rock-based beat provides a distinctive platform for Kweli to deliver rhymes that detail his artistic awakening, while producers Sean C & LV (Jay-Z, Raekwon) created a Marvin Gaye-esque vibe for "Come," a cut featuring Miguel that showcases Kweli trying to convince a series of women to do things his way.
Then there's the dramatic, piano-driven "Before He Walked," which showcases passionate vocals from singer Abby Dobson and includes a verse from possibly the most noteworthy guest on Prisoner Of Conscious: Nelly. Both Kweli and The St. Louis rapper recount the importance music has had in their lives on the stirring song, which was an outgrowth of conversations about music and life Kweli and Nelly had at Kweli's Los Angeles residence.
"Nelly is somebody I've known and have been friendly with throughout the years in this business," Kweli says. "Nelly has always been an example for me because a rising tide raises all boats. Nelly is an artist who is polarizing at times because of the 'Tip Drill' video to the boycotts he's endured at colleges, but I know him as a person, and he's a great person."
Elsewhere, the driving "Ready Set Go" with singer Melanie Fiona features Kweli's ever-impressive clever verbal gymnastics, which are also on display on the stark Busta Rhymes-guested and RZA-produced "Rocketships."
Kweli shifts gears on "Favela Love." Inspired by and created during a trip to Sao Paulo, Brazil, the breezy song features crooning from Brazilian singer and actor Seu George (City Of God, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou). Kweli and George met in the studio, leading Kweli to deviate from his original concept for the song.
"The song went from being about a woman to be being about Brazil, about the favela, about loving to come there," he reveals. "The woman is really a metaphor for the place. That's why it's called 'Favela Love.' When I was telling Seu George about that, he started singing about how much he loves Brazil and where Brazil fits in the world."
AFTER NEARLY 20 YEARS OF RELEASING MESMERIZING MUSIC, TALIB KWELI STANDS AS ONE OF THE WORLD'S MOST TALENTED AND MOST ACCOMPLISHED RAPPERS.
Whether working with Mos Def as one-half of Black Star, partnering with producer Hi-Tek for Reflection Eternal, releasing landmark solo material or collaborating with Kanye West or Madlib, Kweli commands attention by delivering top-tier lyricism, crafting captivating stories and showing the ability to rhyme over virtually any type of beat.
In particular, Kweli showed his artistic reach in Idle Warship. Teaming with longtime collaborator and acclaimed singer Res, Kweli began getting out of his sonic and creative comfort zone on the group's 2009 mixtape Party Robot and its debut album, 2011's Habits Of The Heart.
Idle Warship's music challenged Kweli and led him to a new artistic space. "I like the position I'm in," he says. "I feel like I'm a connector, a leader. I feel like I've led by example and I want to continue to do that. I like the fact that I'm in a position where cats who are coming out and making music that I enjoy are interested in my music and are interested in my influence. It's a great feeling."
Kweli also has the high-powered Attack The Block mixtape with DJ Z-Trip set to arrive and will be focusing on making his Javotti Media (which released his 2011 album, Gutter Rainbows, and is named after his paternal grandmother) into a media powerhouse that releases music, films and books.
But for now, Prisoner Of Conscious arrives as an artistic triumph, a collection that embodies Talib Kweli's robust creative vision. "I wanted to put out an album that really can support the artist that I've become," he says. "I'm a touring artist. I'm an artist that's internationally known. I'm not just a local artist at this point in my career. I'm cognizant of the fact that what I do is beyond where it started. I'm trying to reach the apex of where I am now, but without turning my back on or dismissing what I've done before."