Rap has always tackled tough topics, and Talib Kweli and Immortal Technique are two MCs who speak truth to power, taking on racism, inequality and police brutality onstage and off.
So it was no surprise -- particularly for the fans who've long demanded it -- when the two New York City artists announced they were hitting the road together. One of the first stops of "The People's Champion Tour" will be a March 9 show at the Barrymore Theatre.
While their targets are similar, the artists differ in style.
"[Talib] has more of a musical, catchy backdrop to his music, while mine may be slightly more brutal -- I may be a vulgar man at times -- but with both of us, there's meaning to it," says Immortal Technique, a.k.a. Tech. "Our music has morals. We're both talking about the same inequalities; we just have different tactics for expressing that to the people."
And with recent race-related police violence galvanizing activists across the country, the timing for such a politically charged show seems perfect.
"[Kweli and I] were talking about how the nation recently went through some very, very difficult things for people to confront," says Tech, 37, speaking about the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner on Staten Island last year, both of which led to nationwide protests. "We wanted to create a space where we could not only express frustration but also express hope that things will change."
Both rappers have spoken out publicly regarding police violence, and Kweli has joined protests in Ferguson and appeared on numerous radio and TV shows, becoming a de facto hip-hop spokesman.
But he's not just all talk. Kweli announced last month that his Ferguson Defense Fund has raised more than $112,000 to support activists protesting in Missouri -- far more than its $25,000 goal. The money will go toward community programs and grassroots organizing.
"The overly militarized police force in Ferguson has attempted to criminalize [the protesters] by harassing and throwing them in jail for exercising their right to peaceful protest," says Kweli in a statement about the fund's success. "We hope these funds help to empower."
Because so many hip-hop artists are people of color, Tech says rap lends itself to discussing social issues, especially race-related topics. He also says the rap form has an advantage when it comes to social commentary. "It enables [these discussions] because of the sheer volume of words, ideas and concepts in the songs."
Tech says his early experience as a battle MC helped him hone his onstage skills: "I'll have a loose plan [for my set], but if the crowd is really reacting to something, I can quickly switch it up and go with that," he says.
Tech says the Madison audience will hear his hits, like "You Never Know," a somber tale of love lost, and the dark, twisted narrative of "Dance with the Devil," as well as new songs from his forthcoming album Middle Passage.
Kweli will likely perform his anthem for self-improvement, "Get By," and a smattering of solo tracks from his hefty catalog, as well as some from the albums he made as part of Black Star (with Mos Def) and with DJ Hi Tek.
Tech says he and Kweli make music to raise awareness about how the past affects our present: "What we want to do is draw attention to what's going on in this country right now."
When informed about the recent reports of racial disparities in education, employment and incarceration that plague Dane County, Tech says he applauds the community's efforts to confront the issues.
"The most important step is recognizing that [a problem] exists," he says. "The problem with America is its inability to confront its hypocrisies from the past."