WINNER OF THE PEN OAKLAND/JOSEPHINE MILES AWARD
LONGLISTED FOR THE 2021 BROOKLYN PUBLIC LIBRARY LITERARY PRIZE
From one of the most lyrically gifted, socially conscious rappers of the past twenty years, Vibrate Higher is a firsthand account of hip-hop as a political force
Before Talib Kweli became a world-renowned hip-hop artist, he was a Brooklyn kid who liked to cut class, spit rhymes, and wander the streets of Greenwich Village with a motley crew of artists, rappers, and DJs who found hip-hop more inspiring than their textbooks (much to the chagrin of the educator parents who had given their son an Afrocentric name in hope of securing for him a more traditional sense of pride and purpose). Kweli’s was the first generation to grow up with hip-hop as established culture—a genre of music that has expanded to include its own pantheon of heroes, rich history and politics, and distinct worldview.
Eventually, childhood friendships turned into collaborations, and Kweli gained notoriety as a rapper in his own right. From collaborating with some of hip-hop’s greatest—including Mos Def, Common, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, and Kendrick Lamar—to selling books out of the oldest African-American bookstore in Brooklyn, ultimately leaving his record label, and taking control of his own recording career, Kweli tells the winding, always compelling story of the people and events that shaped his own life as well as the culture of hip-hop that informs American culture at large.
Vibrate Higher illuminates Talib Kweli’s upbringing and artistic success, but so too does it give life to hip-hop as a political force—one that galvanized the Movement for Black Lives and serves a continual channel for resistance against the rising tide of white nationalism.
Hip-hop musician Kweli recounts his rise through the music industry and shares his thoughts on current events in this outspoken and enthusiastic memoir. Kweli shares his upbringing as a "supernerd" from a middle-class Brooklyn family who went to boarding school and later incorporated Afro-centric philosophy into his "Black consciousness" hip-hop style. He narrates his rise as a whirl of deals and tours, collaborations with celebrities including Jay-Z and Dave Chappelle, recording sessions, and confrontations with industry execs who mismarketed his music and business managers who neglected his finances. Kweli is effusive about most of the musicians he knows, and waxes mystically about the "vibe" a blend of social scene and creative ferment at the metaphysical heart of musical collaboration. ("A vibe cannot be re-created; it can only be appreciated for what it is.") On nonmusic matters, he revisits his activism at the Ferguson, Mo., protests after the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown, chastises President Trump and Kanye West for promoting white supremacy, battles tirelessly with racists on Twitter, and weighs in on his privilege ("As a straight American male, I was born into at least three oppressor groups"). The tone leans toward the hyperbolic at times, but the prose remains strong throughout. Kweli's fans are in for a treat.