Review: Talib Kweli (@TalibKweli) Live at @BBowlLondon

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Pho­to cred­it — Eric T.B Lomotey

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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Wasif Sayyed

Wasif Sayyed

Wasif Sayyed’s many years as a writer, rap­per, pro­moter, ment­or and hip-hop pro­du­cer have shaped him into an enthu­si­ast­ic and insight­ful cul­tur­al cryp­to­grapher. He loves read­ing and cook­ing, and can hear the whis­per of an unsheathed liquid sword from 50 paces. Twit­ter @WasifScion

About Wasif Sayyed

Wasif Sayyed
Wasif Sayyed's many years as a writer, rapper, promoter, mentor and hip-hop producer have shaped him into an enthusiastic and insightful cultural cryptographer. He loves reading and cooking, and can hear the whisper of an unsheathed liquid sword from 50 paces. Twitter @WasifScion

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