Talib Kweli at Brooklyn Bowl
Support by K’Valentine & Ty.
Show review by Wasif Sayyed [@Wasif.Scion]
A Black Star Prisoner of Conscious on a Train of Thought to the Beautiful Struggle with Gravitas in Gutter Rainbows…or something like that.
Talib Kweli’s website bio acknowledges his dichotomy as a “Prisoner of Conscious” (also the name of his 2013 album), and a versatile emcee and music artist.
“My music has been associated with those types of causes, with positivity, spirituality, intelligence and being thought-provoking and such…I think sometimes people get caught up in that part of me as an artist and don’t necessarily understand the musicality or fully appreciate the music and the entertainment value behind what I do.”
Kweli’s early work in duos Black Star and Reflection Eternal (with Mos Def and Hi-Tek respectively) has been immortalised into a tapestry of Hip-Hop classics with much nostalgic reverence for an era where independent Hip-Hop was building its own dam against the waves of commodotized industry rap violence. There was great Hip-Hop marketed commercially for sure, but the core fan-base of Kweli and other artists such as Common revelled in their favourite emcees’ ‘conscious’ outlooks – a phrase itself being a bone of contention for others in the scene and often to the chagrin of so-called ‘conscious’ artists themselves. Talib Kweli himself had to deal with angry fans who took to the OkayPlayer website forum to voice their discontent about the song ‘Gun Music’ on Talib Kweli’s debut solo album. The song (with Coco Brovas aka Smiff n Wessun) was ultimately a song about protecting family by any means necessary over a bashy dancehally beat and not a braggadocio gun glorifying anthem as they claimed
There appears a break from his early fanbase. A number of albums released over the last decade or so has led to Kweli acquiring a newer politically and socially active fan base more from his activism at ‘Occupy Wall Street’ or in Ferguson than perhaps the mixed receptions of previous records. DJ work or guest appearances on songs by artists such as Gucci Mane diversifies his fanbase even more. Especially important for an independent artist since his former label creation Blacksmith ended their relationship with Warner. Talib Kweli’s roster of guests on his own albums nods to a diverse appreciation of Hip-Hop with expected names such as Black Thought, Jean Grae and KRS One joined by the likes of Nelly, Raekwon, Underachievers and UGK .
His latest album, which in itself made a political statement with its title ‘Fuck the Money’ was a free download and serves as a perfect entry point to latter day Talib. Also, what finer way to divorce one-self from the somewhat self-fulling ‘prison of conscious’ than to show and prove with a soundsystem, DJ and a mic? Onward to the show…
Badass DJs and mics scorched by Ty and K’valentine. But not many there to bare witness.
Unfortunately, when you disperse around 200 audience members around a venue built to hold a 1000 people (and around 600 on the dancefloor), it looks REALLY empty. Perhaps, being the eve of Notting Hill Carnival had a detrimental effect on numbers trekking it out to North Greenwich.
Emcee K’valentine called upon her expert mic skills, charm and relaxed demeanour to entertain those sporadic spaces where appreciative audiences nodded to her sincere rhymes over trap beats. Notable moments were a shout out to her home city Chicago and a rejection of the violence that mars it, and a woman-perspective flip on Big Sean’s overcompensating hit “I Don’t Fuck With You.”
Ty then proceeded with DJ Big Ted to gather a small army of dance guerrillas at towards the front of the stage where his energy and immaculate rhymes with each syllable crystal clear over soulful, funky and hard-hitting beats provided enough heat to warm each bare square foot of the Brooklyn Bowl. Ty is one of the best emcees EVER (not just ‘from the UK’) and his show at Jazz Café in Novemeber will be covered to provide more evidence as to why.
Throughout the night, the standard of selecting by the ensemble of DJs on the Brooklyn Bowl’s incredible soundsystem including Sarah Harrison and Ras Kwame was neck breaking good and enough to constantly get a dance on to. Any rammed venue would have done well to have these wheels of steel maestros bring their flavours.
Talib Kweli Human Mic: We’re Gonna Rock til Nothing Else Matters
Almost immediately, Talib Kweli paid homage to Hip-Hop’s latest deceased luminary Sean Price via a rousing performance of their collaboration “Palookas.” He proceeded to swiftly give to those in the audience hungry for Reflection Eternal material by doing a sing-along to the ubiquitous bass groove of “The Blast” and a hype run through of “Down for the Count” where he graciously invited Ty back on to stage to kill the song together. Mos Def was missed on “This Means You” and Black Star songs where Talib Kweli clumsily attempted Yassin Bey’s flows and cadences to ill (not Hip-Hop ill) effect but the sentiment was appreciated. This particularly applied to the reggae soundsystem homage that preceded “Definition.”
A critique of Kweli’s rhyming style for his own verses on record has been that he seems to rush his delivery, often cramming syllables and points into spaces that can’t provide accommodation. Live however, there was so such qualm as Talib Kweli approached his verses with an assured and controlled ferocity and vocal clarity. Songs that on record seemed bland such as the RZA produced “Rocket Ships” were brought to life with a pounding bass and militaristic snares. The time to shock out and dance was taken via the sexy groove of Will-I-Am assisted “Hot Thing” and “Say Something (Talk shit now)” brought the ruckus. Kweli closed his standard set time with one of Hip-Hop’s most positive smash hits with ultimate feel-good anthem “Get By”. A song that perhaps perfectly negates the entire existence of Kweli’s album “The Beautiful Struggle.”
Songs performed for the first time from latest album “Fuck the Money” also proved successful highlights with the thunderous 808s of “Gratitude” and “Nice Things” and the anthemic urgency of “Fall Back”. Talib Kweli was happy to return for a fifteen minutes encore, which included the title track. It is remarkable that some fans to the right of me were rapping along to every word in the verses of some of the aforementioned songs – astonishing considering the album had only been out a few days.
Talib Kweli was a live lesson in competency with enough spread from his diverse discography covered to appease each musical generation of his fans with enough left off the menu to make you wish for more: “Oh if only he did Gun Music!”. His crowd interaction was somewhat formulaic and there seemed to be an emotional disconnect between his professional performance and his emotional investment of hype-ness, perhaps owed to the lacklustre turnout. Before taking to stage, I caught site of his glare from the backstage window scoping the vista of an ominously empty venue and it seemed his performance was more an exercise unto himself like his lyric: “We’re gonna rock til nothing else matters!”
Download “Fuck the Money” as a perfect re-entry point.
Many Talib Kweli fans had jumped off the train by “A Beautiful Struggle” and few stayed on for great moments on other albums such as “Eardrum” or the highlights from the more recent “Gravitas”, “Prisoner of Conscious “ or “Gutter Rainbows”. Talib Kweli states that he started the free Hip-Hop album culture (for better or for worse… other rappers need to eat too!) with his Madlib produced “Liberation” project but his latest offering is perhaps his best cohesive effort. It is a perfect painting of a man who does take to the streets in solidarity with the people, rocks heavy trap beats now as well as floaty jazz sampled numbers and as much as he may want to distance himself from the sinkers of so-called “conscious rap” – his being unto itself personifies everything beautiful… and sometimes trite with that whole movement. Maybe Kweli’s ultimate calling and need isn’t just as a rap entertainer but a rap entertainer who is brave enough to talk about the shit that matters when others won’t.
This review in a sentence? Talib Kweli performs a very entertaining live show and his new free album is a perfect entry point to where he stands as a person and artist today.
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