Tour Tales | DJ Spintelect talks having Talib Kweli’s back at shows, a Black Star x Nas collab and more
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” Kweli’s longtime DJ talks the MC’s dedication to live shows, why he’s had to fight people at concerts, and gives an update on the long-awaited Black Star sophomore album.
Musicians are barely getting a slice of music industry revenue, largely eating off of live performances instead. For ’Tour Tales,’ we dig into the rider requests, delayed shows, diligent preparation, and future of touring by talking with the multitude of people that move behind the scenes. Record executives, photographers, tour managers, artists, and more all break down what goes into touring and why it’s still so vital to the livelihood of your favorite artists. What happens on tour stays on ‘Tour Tales.’
For nearly a decade, whenever you’ve seen Talib Kweli perform, DJ Spintelect is right there. From traveling around Europe to essentially running the rapper’s tours, the DJ has had to adapt to any and everything.
“We had been rehearsing with a band to do a Black Star show (at Paid Dues in 2011). Then, we’re in L.A. two hours before showtime and Mos [Def] shows up and is like, ‘I don’t feel like using a band tonight. I just want to rock with a DJ.’ I get in a car with Kweli and Mos, and we put the set together from L.A. to San Bernardino,” Spintelect told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” Kweli’s longtime DJ talks the MC’s dedication to live shows, why he’s had to fight people at some concerts, and gives an update on the long-awaited Black Star sophomore album. Read below.
How did you first link up with Talib Kweli?
I first linked up with him in 2010. I was in New York with other artists that were doing a show for CMJ ( a music events and media company). I ended up getting stranded out there and a friend of mine told me I could crash where he was crashing at. At the time, I was still working at a warehouse in L.A. and I just had to figure it out. I ended up staying where he was staying at and it ended up being Kweli’s house. I ended up sleeping on his couch for three or four days. I met him through that, but it wasn’t too crazy. I went back to L.A., got fired from my job, and a month later, Kweli had a show at the Roxy Theater. So, I reached out like, ‘Yo, do you need anyone to spin in between the sets?’ Then, on that Friday, Kweli hit me to ask if I could deejay for him. The next year, I went on tour with him and I’ve been his DJ ever since. Now, I’m doing soundcheck, checking the mic, and I’m the unofficial tour manager (laughs).
What sort of tour manager duties do you have?
I’m the person of contact on the ground. I make sure the driver is here. I contact the venue to find out what time is soundcheck. When we’re at the venue, I find out if the show is running on time because there’s a curfew. I make sure we’re properly taken care of. I deal with everything on the frontline, so Kweli doesn’t ever have to know there’s an issue.
What were some kinks you two worked out from your earlier shows?
Those early shows were me being timid, but then that first tour we did with the full band, it threw me into the game and I had to figure it out. Being around those dudes, they showed me a lot too. Those incredibly talented musicians helped me understand keys and the musician side of it. It helped me to know that if the drummer is saying he can’t really hear, I can say, “I’m going to count it in, cut out, and y’all just take over.”
What are Talib Kweli’s tour hits?
Obviously, any of the Black Star stuff. We got through periods in the set when we go through each album and a lot of people missed certain albums or they liked certain albums over others. Our shows are never the same. We’ll go over the setlist before we get out there, but everything changes the minute we go out there because we thought this song from this album was going to work tonight. We change things on the fly. Some songs would be “Down For The Count,” “K.O.S. (Determination),” “Too Late” from the Reflection Eternal album.
What were some of your favorite performances?
The first time I ever did a Black Star show was at Paid Dues (April 2, 2011). This was the first tour I did with him. We had been rehearsing with a band to do a Black Star show. Then, we’re in L.A. two hours before showtime and Mos [Def] shows up and is like, “I don’t feel like using a band tonight. I just want to rock with a DJ.” I get in a car with Kweli and Mos, and we put the set together from L.A. to San Bernardino. We go up there and I’m thinking we’re going to do this set and nothing is going to change, but everything changes (laughs). That’s also why I was able to stick around. I dealt with all those punches.
What’s the most memorable Kweli tour?
I would say when we went on tour with Macklemore in 2013 at the height of his career. He took K.R.I.T. and Kweli on a stadium tour. Kanye West and Drake were touring at the same time, and Macklemore was selling out better than they were. He put K.R.I.T and Kweli on that tour and there’s 10-year-olds who might be going to their first hip hop show in general. I think we did 48 shows in 52 days because the tour shows would be all early due to it being all ages. Those shows would be done by 9 pm, so we’d book another one to do after that. Sometimes we’d do three shows a night.
How has your relationship with him grown over the years?
The relationship has definitely grown stronger with valued respect between both of us. We’ve also been in a few scenarios. I’ve had to fight a couple of niggas (laughs).
I wasn’t going to bring it up, but I did see you had a fight at a show before. What happened?
I move off of respect and, often times, the consumer feels these celebrities aren’t regular people. Everyone has a breaking point. I do my best to not even feed into that negativity. But, there was a dude who kept heckling during a show. Kweli stopped the show and I saw where the energy was going. I grew up in L.A. around gang culture, it’s a different temperament. He kept heckling and heckling. I came over to see if everything was straight and he looked at me like, “What you going to do about it?” That was it. That was when I jumped in the crowd (laughs). I went going for the dude, and then security came and grabbed me up. That’s when Kweli was like, “Why are you grabbing him up? You should be protecting us. We’re here doing a service.” It was on a Europe tour a year and a half ago.
Wait, the tweet I was referring to was from 2014.
Which one are you talking about?
How many people have you fought?
(Laughs) That was another scenario. KRS-One got into it with this white rapper named MC Funky J. This was the dude I ended up punching. It was at the Echoplex in L.A. and we just finished the show. After the show, this dude walks up to me holding a camera and recording with a flash on it. I’m standing there thinking this was weird and a setup. In my head, I’m thinking he’s trying to snuff me and catch it on video. Then, Funky J was like, “I want to battle your boy. I want to battle Kweli for five stacks. He said something to me on Twitter and I want to battle him.” I was like, “Alright, I’ll see what’s up.” I go backstage, tell Kweli what’s up and Kweli was like, “I know who he is. Where’s he at?”
I go back out there and they already cleared it out. So, I finish wrapping up my stuff and I’m thinking, “Where’s everyone at?” I go outside and everyone is outside — Kweli and the dude. It kept escalating and escalating. He kept putting his hand in Kweli’s face and Kweli said, “If you keep doing that, there’s going to be a problem.” Funk J said, “There’s already a problem.” That’s when I fired off (laughs). The way I move and operate, you have to protect the asset.
Being with Kweli, you’re around a lot of big moments backstage. What’s one that sticks out to you?
One was when Dave Chapelle was starting to come out and he was doing random private shows. Backstage was Dave, 9th Wonder, Kanye, Kim Kardashian, and Justin Bieber. That’s when Kanye gave Dave Chappelle the Yeezys off his feet. It was interesting to be around these people and be a fly on the wall. In Dayton, Ohio; I was listening to a conversation between Chance the Rapper, Stevie Wonder, Dave Chapelle, Thundercat, John Stewart and Kweli. When we did that show, the DJ booth was probably 50 feet off site like a festival is set up. We had to go off each other’s cues. I had to pickup on what he was saying. We actually came up with this whole system where someone stands somewhere to relay the message of what song or switches Kweli wants to do to me. Once we got up there, we were like, “Forget all of that. We’re just going to rock” (laughs).
Going back to Black Star, what are Kweli and Mos’ interactions like off stage?
Because they have so much history, it’s like friends talking about life. The music is timeless and they know those records inside and out. So, their talks are more conversations about how things are going in the world. They’ve been working on a new Black Star album and the talks have been what is going to happen with that.
Have you heard any of the new Black Star album?
I know it’s all Madlib production. I heard a joint with Nas on it. That’s the only feature I’ve heard on the album so far. Kweli was playing it for me recently when we were on tour; a rough version.
How has the pandemic affected your touring with Kweli?
We had at least 30-40 shows this year that are all over. We had a European run scheduled. In January, we had just finished up a Europe tour. We go to Europe at least once a year for a tour. But, right now, the world is on pause.
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