It’s no secret that the Black bookstore, a common meeting place in the black community for local residents and leaders, is an endangered species; often an early casualty of gentrification. Nkiru Books was one such bookstore in Brooklyn. It was once owned by Blackstar and stood down the street from the present-day Barclay’s Center. Talib Kweli resurrected Nkiru Books online in his digital merch store #KweliClub.
Here are a few times Kweli and his peers made literary references in their songs. Use this list if you’re looking for some classic songs to add to a themed playlist or want to find a good read this fall! Check out Black bookstores like Frontline Books in Chicago, Jamil’s Global Village in Pittsburgh and Marcus Books in the Bay area to get your hands on copies of these must-reads.
1. 2000 Seasons
“For who do we aspire to reflect our own people’s death
For whose entertainment shall we sing of agony? In what hopes?
That the destroyers aspiring to extinguish us will suddenly
Suffer remorse at the sight of their own fantastic success?
The last imbecile to dream that dream is dead
He was killed by the saviors of his own dream
Armah, 2000 seasons”
These are the opening lyrics by Kweli on the Reflection Eternal song 2000 Seasons, which is named after the book Two-Thousand Seasons by Ayi Kwei Armah. It is a powerful story about the invasion of Africa.
2. Things Fall Apart
The Roots album that brought us classics like Grammy-winning You Got Me and Next Movement was named after Chinua Achebe’s book of the same name. It is considered a classic piece of African literature.
3. Thieves in the Night
“Give me the fortune, keep the fame, ” said my man Louis
I agreed, know what he means because we live the truest lie
I asked him why we follow the law of the bluest eye
He looked at me, he thought about it, was like, “I’m clueless, why?”
Kweli seems to like leading off verses with book references. The third line of this Blackstar classic references Toni Morrison’s work The Bluest Eye.
4. One Day It’ll All Make Sense
Common’s best-selling book is named after an album with the same title on which he collaborated with fellow artists including Black Thought from The Roots, Q-Tip, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill and De La Soul.
5. The Tipping Point
“Up against the clock and damn near out of time
“The Tipping Point” has arrived, and that’s the bottom line”
Star by The Roots
The Roots named an album after the pop-science nonfiction book The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell and this lyric is from the intro. Looks like The Roots share Kweli’s practice of starting off with a quick book reference.