A far cry from the image-driven gangster rappers of the late 1990s, emcee Talib Kweli strives to “reconcile left-wing idealism with the anything-goes attitude of hip hop,” according to critic Kelefa Sanneh in the New York Times. He seems “determined to move hip hop past materialism,” noted Jon Pareles in the New York Times. An emcee “with a social conscience, a liquid flow, and an unending gift of wordplay,” Kweli was “one of the most astute and prominent voices in the hip-hop underground,” remarked Ken Capobianco in the Boston Globe. After releasing Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star with successful emcee Mos Def in 1998 and Reflection Eternal with deejay Hi-Tek in 2000, however, Kweli was ready to break out of the underground. His full-length solo debut, Quality, released in 2002, was hailed as one of the most important hip-hop releases of the year, effectively bringing him into the hip-hop limelight.
Def and Kweli also own an Afrocentric bookstore in Brooklyn. When Brooklyn’s oldest black-owned bookstore, Nkiru Books, fell on hard times, the two took it over and expanded it into the Nkiru Center for Education and Culture, a nonprofit literacy and cultural awareness center. Neither artist is involved with the foundation’s day-to-day operations; although Kweli worked at the store for five years in his youth, his mother now runs things for them. “We come from the same place and we’re into the same things,” Kweli said of his friendship with Mos Def at the Onion online.