2 June, 2010@1:57 am
Ten years ago, Talib Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek helped define the face of Rawkus Records, as well as the indie hip-hop movement, with their self-titled debut LP, also known as Train of Thought. Arguably a hip-hop classic, this magnum opus captured the essence of the one producer / one emcee team up, much like classic duos that came before them, such as Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, Guru & Premier, and DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. Talib’s thought provoking lyrics meshed perfectly with Tek’s moody, lush production, but the collaboration was almost too good to be true, as it only lasted one album. The two went their separate ways – still collaborating on various tracks from time to time – but both focused on their individual solo careers. In retrospect, while many dope songs came out of both artist’s respective repertoires, it is safe to say that as far as their full-length albums go, Train of Thought trumped them all.
Much like Raekwon’s better-late-than-never Only Built For Cuban Linx Part II, the dissolution of the music industry has allowed for one positive aspect amid declining sales: allowing artists to make art. The formulaic “rich rapper” album formula pioneered by Nas, Jay-Z and Biggie found just about every emcee assembling teams of hand-picked producers and guest artists to make the most marketable record possible – while this still happens in this day and age – it did take away from the one emcee / one producer approach that helped produce so many classic albums throughout hip-hop history. Revolutions Per Minute brings it back around, finally reuniting Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek for a second LP.
Talib Kweli has a lot to say, and a massive seventeen tracks to say it on. Tek’s production has evolved from it’s once purely backpack roots, delving into several different styles of production, all within his signature trademark style. The album gets off to a bit of a slow start, with the murky “City Playground” and a not-quite “The Blast” sequel, “Back Again” (feat. Res). But things kick in nicely by the time “Strangers” rolls around, as Talib and Bun B drop some of their best verses in recent memory, as Tek’s horns sound the alarm every few bars. The soulful “In This World” also knocks it out the park, as Tek brilliantly chops the original sample and Kweli flows effortlessly atop the beat. “Lifting Off” is notable as well, as Tek channels his inner-Dilla for this zoned out drug ballad, while the depressing “In The Red” explores the dark realities of post-celebrity lifestyle. The posse cut “Just Begun” features J. Cole, Mos Def, and Jay Electronica, as the quartet flow over a vintage jazz loop, reminiscent of the classic “Fortified Live”. But the album’s shining jewel is “Ballad Of The Black Gold”, which is arguably Tek’s strongest beat and Talib’s most poignant speech, especially in light of the recent BP oil spill.
With an album so packed with material, the duo could have trimmed the fat a little. “So Good”, for instance, merely plods along with Tek’s redundant beat, while the aforementioned “City Playgrounds” and “Back Again” get the album off to a bit of a slow start. Fans might turn their noses up at the more “commercial” (in the loosest sense of the term) collaborations with “Get Loose” (feat. Chester French) and “Midnight Hour” (feat. Estelle). Neither are bad – both are respectable, in fact, however they do feel somewhat out of place among the album’s other tracks.
All in all, Revolutions Per Minute is a different LP than Train of Thought – this one built more around concepts of fear, it’s predecessor more rooted in love. However it’s a sign of the times. Much of what Talib Kweli is saying here needs to be said and heard by many. Truth be told, these two bring the best out in one another – let’s just hope it doesn’t take another ten years to do it again.
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