Music: Internal Reflections

Talib Kweli leads a new school of Hip Hoppers into the mainstream

Mar 22, 2001 at 2:06 pm
Talib Kweli is a ghost.

"Believe this when you see this and don't fuck with me either, 'cause you'll be down where my feet is, curled up in a fetus, crying from the get-go. Watch when I flip. People gone be buyin' my shit like fiends dyin' for a hit."

—Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek, "Some Kind of Wonderful"

Talib Kweli is a ghost.

The interview was and was not a done deal.

No matter. We've all got deadlines.

His is studio time. Photo ops. Performances.

Opening for everybody's favorite bald-headed mystical chanteuse, Erykah Badu. And on and on.

Kweli, the 25-year-old this-just-in poster boy for Hip Hop's consciousness camp, is arguably the finest example of literate Rap. That is, no crotch-grabbing, no "bitch"- and "ho"-spewing allowed.

Together currently with Cincinnati's Hi-Tek and formally with Mos Def, Kweli has worked and rapped to bring Hip Hop into the bright, glorious light of "To Be Taken Seriously."

Not that gats, Glocks, ice and Timboes should be disallowed. Kweli just makes it known that there's room for us all as we mingle at the mall.

He belongs unofficially to the club whose members include De La Soul, Common, Black Eyed Peas, Tribe Called Quest, Mos Def, Bahamadia and, bringing up the underground's rear, Makeba Mooncycle — all young blacks with either messages in mind or business interests in the communities that raised them.

Kweli and Mos Def two years ago purchased Nkiru Center for Culture and Education in Brooklyn, taking Outkast's directive, "If you wanna change somethin' start with your block," to heart. The store specializes in African and Caribbean literature and the rappers' mothers (Kweli's is a college professor) run the bookstore.

When the store's landmark location was overrun by expensive gentrification, Kweli and Def headlined a fund-raising concert to offset moving costs to Prospect Heights.

This is mind-boggling to a society that blames most social ills on Rap generally and Hip Hop specifically. It is the manifestation of some black leader's dream that two black boys from around the way can own something so positive.

It is glorious to heads who know better that the geniuses who gave the world "Move Somethin' " employ people, sign checks and contribute to the greater good of their community.

All the above-mentioned rappers are also forward thinkers and progressive musicians who've been blessed just enough so as to be banished to Rap's periphery. It is a realm that has created a groundswell of fandom, though. It is populated by hardcore fans who know that Hip Hop is more than music or a placement card in the record store.

The rappers they adore have trademarked Hip Hop into a culture — a way of seeing, thinking, living and believing.

Kweli himself has said that Hip Hop is a manner in which to bring information to people. And the challenge lies in bringing it in an entertaining way.

Check Reflection Eternal (Tweli's latest, with Cincinnati's own Hi-Tek) in its entirety. It's rather like an aural take on the Old Testament. There are lessons to be learned, sure. However, the entertainment value is so deep that the listener comes away unaware, but for the neck noddin', that he's been immersed in history, black love and bottlenecked rhymes to the point of being soiled. Yes, soiled.

"The Blast," "This Means You," "Memories Live," "Love Language, " "Eternalists" and "Good Mourning," to name several, are so tight, the bounce so buoyant and the groove so thick that everything else before it is a lie.

Hi-Tek is some kind of beat freak. Not since Pete Rock and Prince Paul dropped ear bombs has the music behind the lyrics been so significant without being pervasive.

If this feels like a musical blow job, that's because it is.

For too long Hip Hop has been ghettoized, aped, relegated and disenfranchised. Liars have come and gone, taking with them the music's relevance and significance.

Meanwhile, peeps like Kweli and Tek have to work too hard, arriving as they have with their brooms and dust pans to clean up the mess.

And now it's a beautiful wreck they've made for us, as significant a release as De La Soul's Three Feet High and Rising or Eric B and Rakim's Paid in Full.

And Tek, though he's not slated to appear with his partner at the Taft (but he probably will), has made it safe for all local DJs to leave the house, the nest and the city. So long as they keep givin' those shout outs, it's all good.

So let us now praise famous, unavailable men, too busy for phoners.

It's a reason to reflect, albeit internally.

TALIB KWELI opens for Erykah Badu at the Taft Theatre on Friday. The show is sold out.