After releasing a handful of essential 12″ singles, on various Rawkus projects, Talib Kweli & Hi-Tek were on the verge of becoming one of hip-hop’s best-kept secrets. Yet, they’re original incarnation (Reflection Eternal) was momentarily thwarted, as the duo expanded into a triumvirate with the inclusion of Mos Def; and their eventual manifestation as Black Star. While Talib Kweli’s star may have been originally eclipsed by his more charismatic cohort, Reflection Eternal, will establish Talib as one of this generations most poetic emcees.
In a field of music that sorely lacks role models, Kweli is a rare species, as his edutaining lyricism resounds with a deeper understanding of life that transcends his tender-age. After helping rekindle hip-hop’s social-activist flame with Black Star, Kweli does not aspire to reprogram the masses with Reflection, just rehabilitate, as he laments on “The Blast”; “they ask me what I’m writing for/I’m writing to show you what we fighting for.” In doing so, Kweli is forced to step on a few toes, as with a hint of disgust he questions hip-hop’s moral fabric on “Africa Dream”, peep the knowledge; “these cats drink champagne/and toast death and pain/like slaves on a ship talking bout’ who got the flyest chain.” Similarly, Talib & Hi-Tek are a duo that speaks to the disillusioned head, and with “Too Late” Talib captures those years of frustration with one profound hook; “nowadays rap artists coming half-hearted/commercial like pop/or underground like black-markets/where were you the day hip-hop died/is it too early too mourn/is it too late to ride.”
While the recent Source awards fiasco has further inflamed the violent, and Godless reputation this artform has been stereotyped with. Kweli discerningly critiques hip-hop’s obsession with death on “Good Mourning” —”you was living for yourself/so you could never be a martyr/life is hard/death is harder/you somebody baby father, someone’s lover/son of your mother”. Yet, it is the diversity of Kweli’s lyrical content that is most inspiring, effortlessly transitioning from pensive numbers “For Women”, and “Love Language”, into the rugged underground burners “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “Down For The Count” feat. Rah Digga & Xzibit.
Though the unassuming, largely minimalist grooves Hi-Tek supplied on Black Star’s debut, longed for a dramatic flair, he displays a remarkable maturation on Reflection. Reverberating with a discernible Soulquarian vibe, Tek’s loping keyboard wails, soulful staccato claps, and lucent piano loops are sublimely arranged, exemplified by the caressing horn break “This Means You” feat. Mos Def, and the wonderfully melodious, yet understated acoustical guitar riffs of “Africa Dream”.
While Talib & Hi-Tek’s debut harbors over-ambitious (clocks in at 70 minutes) tendencies, this is a duo that will undoubtedly stain their memory into hip-hop’s collective memory. Welcome to the new generation of Native Tongue speaking.
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