Talib Kweli Greene doesn’t need this.
The 41-year-old, Brooklyn-born MC — who goes by his first and middle names — is one of the most critically-acclaimed rappers working today. He tours both constantly and internationally. He’s dropped 14 albums, with a 15th, “Tour Da Force,” coming out next year.
And yet, if you go to his handle, @TalibKweli, you’ll see a lot of this:
@DumpyKuma @TalibKweli but see, if we blackface for authenticity, it’s “racist”
— RemoveheadFromarse???? (@EricNobody) October 2, 2016
@TalibKweli hip hop will be dead by 2020
— The Sigilante (@tha_sigilante) October 2, 2016
And even this:
Internet trolls come at Greene hard, day after day. They call him a racist. They argue with him about everything from hip-hop culture to the Black Lives Matter movement. They insult him for using terms like “white fragility,” a term coined by a researcher at the University of North Carolina-Greenesboro to describe a “state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.”
And every day, he claps back at every troll who tweets at him, challenging their statements and disproving their arguments. He’s been doing it every day, he says, since joining Twitter in 2008 at the suggestion of Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, bandleader of The Roots.
“I’ve never changed,” Greene says. “I’ve always responded to that stuff. But I think, because people know that I’m responsive, I became a target.”
Indeed. Recently, Greene has been profiled on conservative sites such as Breitbart.com and Heatst.com over his exchanges on Twitter. He attributes the heightened attention to the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the rise of Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Trump, with his xenophobic attacks on Mexicans and calls to deport Muslims, has galvanized interest in the alt-right movement and legitimized white nationalism, energizing many to leap onto social media to spread their right-wing, pro-white ideologies.
“Those things, combined with the fact that I’m willing to answer, is what increases the racists who decide to wake up every day and try to stop me on Twitter,” Greene says.
The question, of course, is why does Greene continue to do it. He could hand things off to a social media manager or just block the trolls (which he does). Why engage so fervently and constantly?
Several reasons, he says.
“It’s a natural gut reaction,” Greene explains. “I’m an artist, and I’m a writer. So any time someone tells me I can’t do something, or someone tells me to shut up and sing, it makes me want to do the opposite.”
He also believes that discourse is key to developing a more civilized society. The eldest son of college professors, Greene grew up in a household where debate and conversation were commonplace.
Growing up in Brooklyn also helped develop Greene’s tenacious debate skills. Brooklyn in the 80’s was home to many hip-hop acts affiliated with the Nation of Gods and Earths a.k.a. The Five Percenters, an early offshoot of the Nation of Islam.
As a youth, Greene dabbled in the philosophy, but he was more intrigued in how they argued, made points, and backed up what they said.
“We were able to challenge each other, and you had to show the proof of what you said was right and exact,” Greene says. “If what you are saying is not righteous and not exact, I’m going to challenge you, and I think I take that same attitude into my music… and into these debates on Twitter.”
The difference now is that the neither the trolls nor their arguments hold up under scrutiny, Greene says. Case in point:
Other times, Greene faces off with so-called “former fans” who claimed to enjoyed his music but have been turned off to him because of his comments.
“These people aren’t fans of mine,” Greene says.
Trolls will also attack Greene citing incorrect or inaccurate statements from conservative news sites, like the claim that Black Lives Matter protestors chanted calls for “dead cops” during a march in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in late 2014. A video of the march posted online was later proven to have been fabricated, but that didn’t stop the claim from making its way into a debate on Fox News.
Breitbart rehashed the charge again in July 2016 when conservative pundit Pat Buchanan brought it up during a taping of “The MacLaughlin Group.”
Greene easily disproved the claim, much to the trolls chagrin, but what concerns him more is the disinformation campaign perpetuated by sites like Breitbart and others to discredit groups dedicated to social change.