The second we hear any song from Talib Kweli’s first solo album Quality, we’re transported to fresh-outta-college days, back when we still used a landline and sucked from the wide mouth of a two-foot-tall bong named Anita. We loved Kweli then; loved his lyrics, loved his beats, loved his gravel-wrapped-in-satin voice. “Get By” is still a song we crank up just to feel our hearts race.
At FP, we’ve never understood why Kweli didn’t rise to the level of mainstream success as other rappers, even as much as his old Black Star mate Mos Def. Endorsed by Dave Chappelle, lauded by hip-hop royalty Jay-Z, you’d think the poor guy woulda been paving his driveway in platinum. But as my dad used to say, sometimes talent doesn’t make a career. Maybe it’s the conceit that occasionally seeps from Kweli’s lyrics that keeps him from blowin up (i.e., in the first song off Eardrum, a mellifluous intro prepares us for a man of mythical lyrical powers). Maybe there’s a constant struggle, albeit a Beautiful one, between being unapologetically bold about his insight and intelligence, and staying accessible to a fickle “my-room-is-the-g-spot-I-can-make-your-bed-rock” audience. We’d hate to think it’s his brains that hold him back.
However, if a career with hiccup’d fame is what keeps Kweli trying to be better, good for us. With last week’s Revolutions Per Minute, Kweli reunites with Hi-Tek in the second Reflection Eternal album in ten years. True to the duo’s form, the album explores everyday trials as well as social ills. “Midnight Hour” is a sweet 40s-ish big-band hip-hop number; “The Ballad of Black Gold” explores government greed and the oil industry; “Got Work” likens the pursuit of fame to that of a deadly addiction: “You would probably shudder/ at the amount of blood/ flowing through the hollywood gutter/ all because of the appetite for dreams” … wonder how he got thinking about all that.
We love to see our favorite artists grow through the years — as if in some way, we’re on a journey together — and Revolutions Per Minute (nice play on words, guys), points to exactly that for Reflection Eternal. They’re having fun, taking risks, speaking their minds and granted, this record is not breaking a lot of ground, but the lyrics and music are nonstop-compelling. The album is, as Kweli claims, quality. Then again, he is always evolving, even when he comes up with a song in a few weeks.
If you have the time: get a good fan read.
Reflection Eternal – Just Begun (featuring Jay Electronica, J Cole, and Mos Def)
Reflection Eternal – Midnight Hour (featuring Estelle)