Born in Brooklyn, New York, Kweli grew up in a highly educated household in Park Slope. His mother, Brenda Greene, is an English professor at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York and his father an administrator at Adelphi University. His younger brother, Jamal Greene, is a professor of Constitutional Law at Columbia Law School, and former clerk to Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court. As a youth, he was drawn to Afrocentric rappers, such as De La Soul and other members of the Native Tongues Posse whom he had met in high school. Talib Kweli was a student at Cheshire Academy, a boarding school in Connecticut. He was also a student at Brooklyn Technical High School, before being academically dismissed. He later studied experimental theater at New York University.
Kweli made his underground debut in 1995, with featured five appearances on "Doom", an album by Cincinnati, Ohio group Mood (Main Flow, Donte, Jahson). In Cincinnati, Kweli also met DJ Hi-Tek and the two collaborated on a few well received underground recordings as Reflection Eternal, including "Fortified Live" (1997), and "B-Boy Document 99/Chaos" (1999, featuring The High & Mighty). Shortly afterwards, upon returning to New York, he reconnected with Mos Def and formed Black Star. Kweli brought along Hi-Tek to produce their first and only album, 1998's Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star. The album, released amidst a late '90s renaissance of conscious, Afrocentric hip hop, was immediately hailed by critics and achieved modest mainstream success. When Kweli and Mos Def parted ways shortly thereafter, Kweli and Hi-Tek continued their Reflection Eternal partnership on the 2000 album Train of Thought, which was likewise met with critical acclaim.
Following Train of Thought, Kweli and Hi-Tek split as well, and Kweli used his first truly solo debut to attempt a move toward a more mainstream sound. 2002's Quality accomplished this goal to some extent, featuring production by a host of different producers, including DJ Quik and Kanye West. Additionally, Dave Chappelle provided two features on Quality. The album was met with wide spread critical acclaim and received some mainstream attention thanks to the West-produced single "Get By" which peaked at #77 on the Billboard Hot 100. Quality peaked at #21 on the US Billboard 200 and at #6 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums Chart. In 2001, Kweli with Black Star partner Mos Def contributed to the Red Hot + Indigo compilation album created by the Red Hot Organization in tribute to Duke Ellington, that raised money for various charities devoted to increasing AIDS awareness and fighting the disease. Black Star collaborated with fellow artists John Patton and Ron Carter to record "Money Jungle." In 2002, Kweli contributed to the critically acclaimed Red Hot + Riot, a compilation CD created by the Red Hot Organization in tribute to the music and work of Nigerian musician Fela Kuti. He collaborated with fellow hip-hop artists Dead Prez, Jorge Ben, and Bilal to remake the famous song by Fela Kuti, "Shuffering and Shmiling," for the CD.
In February 2004, Kweli also had a guest spot on Kanye West's widely successful debut album on the track "Get 'Em High". On April 7, 2004, Kweli was the musical guest on Chappelle's Show for the third and final time (his previous performances had been on February 5, 2003 and April 9, 2003, the latter as part of Black Star). In the summer of 2004, Talib Kweli, along with Bob Moore's Amazing Mongrels, supported the Beastie Boys on their "Challah At Your Boy World Tour", and appeared on a Dilated Peoples song called "Kindness for Weakness", (a live remix of which was later featured on the video game NBA Street Vol. 2). Also that summer, Kweli performed at Dave Chappelle's Block Party (both as a solo act and as one half of Black Star). In October 2004, along with Common and Questlove, Kweli contributed to Zap Mama's Ancestry in Progress (2004) with "Yelling Away."
In November 2004, he released his second solo album and final Rawkus release, The Beautiful Struggle, which debuted at #14 in the billboard top 100. Kweli responded to Jay-Z's 2003 record "Moment of Clarity" (on The Black Album, in which Jay-Z rapped: "If skills sold, truth be told/I'd probably be, lyrically, Talib Kweli") in his own track "Ghetto Show" by stating "If lyrics sold then truth be told/I'd probably be just as rich and famous as Jay Z." Despite this nod, the album featured much more commercial production (including The Neptunes, Kanye West and Just Blaze) and although Kweli's lyrics retained their socio-political content, he affected a somewhat harder persona. The album failed to cross over into the mainstream and suffered a critical backlash. For example, Britt Robson of The Washington Post "Struggle" was a "frequently awkward, too-obvious bid to exploit the commercial buzz Jay-Z created."
In 2005, Kweli released a Mixtape-CD off of his newly formed Blacksmith Records. The project was called Right About Now: The Official Sucka Free Mix CD, a title which is considered likely a response to the criticism of The Beautiful Struggle. The musical offering was generally considered to be a mixtape. However, some people regard "Right About Now" as an official album because of its availability through commercial sites and its release of two singles. "Right About Now" also lacks the DJ overlays often accompanied by mixtapes which makes the CD read more like an official album. The album sold 16,000 copies in its first week of release, debuting at #113 on the Billboard 200. Sparking some controversy, on Right About Now Kweli sampled Ben Kweller's "In Other Words" for his own song "Ms. Hill". In part 7 of Kweller's video podcast series "One Minute Pop Song," Kweller said he found Kweli's use of the song "a little fucked up" due to the fact that it was sampled without permission. In 2006, Kweli enjoyed a number of media appearances after signing a distribution deal with Warner Bros. Records for Blacksmith Records. Warner Brothers launched an online community via Second Life for Kweli. In January, Kweli was featured in a commercial for the NCAA's Big Ten Conference, rapping about the league's basketball teams. In February 2006, Kweli provided the voice of the protagonist in the graffiti-themed video game Marc Eckō's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure. In October 2006, Kweli performed on MTV's Wild 'N Out, hosted by Nick Cannon. On December 31, 2006, Kweli released nine songs he recorded with acclaimed underground producer Madlib for free download in conjunction with the web site for Stones Throw Records, the label to which Madlib is signed. The album was entitled Liberation, of which Talib later was quoted by XXL Magazine as saying releasing the album was liberating to him; "The idea that I could put out an album like that: record it in my house, put it out for free and get that type of response." In 2007, the album was made available for purchase. In 2007 Kweli signed acclaimed rapper Jean Grae and the group Strong Arm Steady to Blacksmith Records. Also in 2007, Kweli released his third solo album, entitled Eardrum, which was released on August 21st. It debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200. The first single was Listen!!!. Kweli embarked on a national Australian tour in October, 2007. "Eardrum", which featured a mix of mainstream and underground producers like Kanye West, Just Blaze, will.i.am, Nick Speed and Pete Rock, received generally favorable reviews and went on to sell 129,000 copies after four weeks. Also in 2007, Kweli released a mixtape containing rare and collaborative songs, entitled Focus.
Kweli was a featured artist on the 9th Wonder and Buckshot album "The Formula", released on April 29th, 2008 (on the track "Hold It Down"). Kweli's Blacksmith Records split with Warner Bros. Records in December of 2008. Kweli confirmed to AllHipHop.com that Warner Bros. would still distribute Reflection Eternal and Talib Kweli projects, but not other acts on the Blacksmith label. Kweli was featured at the fifth installment of Hot 97 radio personality Peter Rosenberg's acclaimed live interview series "Noisemakers with Peter Rosenberg" on October 21, 2009. Kweli recorded an album entitled Party Robot with R&B singer Res and musician Graph Nobel under the group alias Idle Warship. The album was released as a free download on the website for Kweli's label Blacksmith with 2 different cover art options in late 2009. There were videos shot for two of the songs from the album: "Bedroom Lights" and "Black Snake Moan".
Talib Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek released a second Reflection Eternal album titled Revolutions Per Minute on May 18, 2010. Revolutions per Minute was recorded at Electric Lady Studios. It is their second album after a 10-year hiatus. The album has so far sold 33,000 copies. The album received generally positive reviews from most music critics, based on an aggregate score of 80/100 from Metacritic.
Gutter Rainbows, Kweli's is the fourth solo album, was the first to be released by his imprint Talibra. The album was originally intended to be released in only a digital format. However, on November 16th, 2010, Duck Down Records announced its plans to offer Gutter Rainbows a CD release.  This will include an import edition and a special edition with extras. In its first week, the album sold 13,900 copies in the United States.
Kweli has confirmed the title of his next album will be Prisoner of Conscious, a title derived from Talib's constant labeling as a "conscious rapper" and based on Nigerian reggae artist Majek Fashek's album "Prisoner of Conscience." Kweli began working on "Prisoner" before "Rainbows" was released, and put cuts that were originally intended for "Conscious" on "Rainbows". He also confirmed that he will reunite with MadLib to offer Liberation 2.
Indy, catch Talib Kweli this Sunday, April 17th at The Vogue. Old SOUL Ent. family Alpha.Live and DJ MetroGnome will be opening the show along with homie Oreo Jones.
Tickets available at The Vogue Box Office or at Ticketmaster.