Few precious times a generation, an artist will ascend the mountains of commercial medium and hover unknowingly above the level of entertainer; through message, manner, and integrity be revered in ways that are of greater purpose and mission than to just make people get down. Immediately, mega-icons like Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Gil Scott Heron come to mind.Today, it’s not that simple, so many voices and melodies sing praises of activism and awareness. However when you enter the same room as Talib Kweli, the energy is overwhelming. The prophet, all message, flow, authenticity, modern day Bboy, activist, rebel philosopher, ill mc, everyday brother. One half of the match made in heaven that is Black Star, as well as the MC supreme in the emotive duo Reflection Eternal, Kweli just moves a crowd like a true master of ceremonies. Like a Donovan McNabb, the Eternalist is just an all around sickass, and the consummate professional in delivery of the “realness” (goods), and mission execution.
Case in point, Method Monday at Philadelphia’s Theatre of Living Arts,: where a sold out Illadelph massive came out seriously fired up for Spitkicker presents: The Kwelity Tour. I had high hopes for the show, although some reservations about the Bentley obsessed Jiggy factor that came out en masse for the Roots Halloween. Those reservations were put to rest by the monumental performance/lesson and integration of races, rhymes and righteousness.
Kweli came out shortly before 11pm after sets by some local cats who I missed (sort of on purpose so I could get full, unadulterated Kweli, just me and ginger ale as I detoxify from JazzFest). I walked in to a sweet block of late 70’s/early 80’s Michael Jackson. Kweli, DJ Chaps, and two Nubian backup singers The Shock Body Rockers stormed the stage as Kweli hyped the crowd. He immediately opened with two BLAZING new joints off his yet-to-be-released sophomore disc KWELITY. He then called out to the Africans in the crowd (the crowd was about 60% Caucasian, 40% Minorities) and established that he knew they were in the house and feeling him. The energy level just leapt skyward as his man on the ones and twos, DJ Chaps the 12 inch Assassin, dropped the horns from the bangin’ “Move Somethin’”, and it was on.
Kweli repped for the brothers and sisters with a series of shout outs and respect, as he appreciated their presence. I have noticed at hip-hop and reggae shows that African performers get psyched when they see their people out in the crowd feeling their vibe. So when “African Dream” arrived in its minimalist drum and bass afrobeat swagger, we all knew we were in for a monumental, passionate performance. It also set the vibe something beautiful for the whole clan to catch a tan in his sunshine.Basically, from “Move Somethin’” on, the show went off the charts!! Talib said that if we liked the next song, to request it to local radio, as it was to be his new single. (However if you are not Ja Rule, Philly radio will not play you.) Chorus went something like “Sunshine… what we gonna do”. When a performer has the crowd by the SECOND VERSE of a brand new song, you know that joint is hot. And specifically, that second verse is some shit! Dispelling the BS about him being “too conscious” Kweli straight spit venomous battle raps, and laments on the drama over at his record label without talking shit, making mention of the security guards on post in case anything pops off.
Next came the sweet pairing of “1,2,3,” which got the Philly headz bobbin’ like emergency breaks and “Respiration” (Mos Def and Talib Kweli are BLACK STAR), a song that consistently vies for the title of my all time favorite hip-hop jam (the OG and the remix!). “…So much on my mind I just can’t recline, blast holes in the night til’ she bled sunshine.”The beat for “Respiration” magically marries the lyrical sentiment with moody guitar strumming, warm acoustic bass and a sensual Spanish-speaking temptress whispering.
The production sound scape of Kweli’s jams are an exquisite elixir of DJ Premeir-style boom-bap, Afrobeat, Native Tongues style jazzy groove, and an original flavor Reflection Eternal co-conspirator Hi-Tek brings to the table. The songs are funky, break dance oriented, and akin to much of the acid-groove content we cover on JamBase.com. Hopefully Talib’s fans since Mood’s “Hustle on the Side” and Reflection’s “Fortified Live” will welcome the broader conscious, energetic fan base that was visible en masse at the show.
I cannot remember the order of the remainder of the show; nor each and every joint Talib blessed us with; I’ll describe it the best I can. Another example of how well Kweli connects with his audience, the prophet next extended his energy to the women in the audience, with respect given in the form if the straight sexy, R&B-ish Black Star jam “Brown Skin Lady” (he does his verses and the choruses on Black Star joints) and the ‘Kweli as the romantic intellect’ “Love Speakeasy> Love Language”, which really had dudes scribbling lines for their own game in dire need. The luscious backup singers on stage left, The Shock Bodyrockers, crooned sultry hooks behind Talib’s lover’s appreciation poetry. It took on the vibe of a real collaborative affair, the DJ and singers getting live and pushing Kweli to flip scripts with pure adrenaline line after line. By then the Eternalist had the ladies all hot and bothered, and hit ‘em with “The Blast.”
“The Blast” was followed up by “Too Late” which poignantly asks the question:
During this two-song passage, Kweli transcended activist, rapper, sex symbol into that realm I alluded to earlier. Messenger, Prophet, Teacher, Master of Ceremonies. The Philly massive responded with an energy and reciprocation any Hip Hop act would give their Bentley for: the type of bounce and lyrics back to the grill in loud powerful unison, all dancing and shouting and ill vibes around!Then, Kweli, in the spirit of Hip Hop, brought out some fellow artists to share in the fun. First, Philly’s own Scratch (of the Legendary Roots Crew) came out and rocked a beat box turntable session, vamping on that Busta Rhymes single “Don’t that shit just make a N*&^%$ wanna JUMP JUMP!” Then out came J-Sands (of the Lone Catalysts) and (Philadelphia’s) DICE Raw (LRC). And what does the 12 Inch Assassin drop? “Down For the Count” (Reflection Eternal’s Train of Thought) albeit with different partners in crime than the Rah-Digga ruckus on the LP version. J-Sands started the madness with a tight cadence and solid freestyle, and as they hit the chorus I turned to my friend Chris and remarked, “I don’t know how I feel about Dice Raw.”
Dice is nice on some Roots tracks, but his Jiggy bullshit bravado and average flow bothers me sometimes. Often. Clad in a Bboy style fresh outta ’85, with denim jacket on jeans and a tan Kangol, Dice straight burned us silent. Literally. Confidant, authoritative flow, hyping the crowd and avoiding call and response nonsense, he hit us with a line like:
Sorry for fronting, Mr. Dice!
Kweli stepped to the mic with a freestyle unlike I had ever heard from him. Let me preface this with a story about when I saw him do a free concert at a show at UC Boulder last month. Kweli was a part of a weeklong hip-hop symposium at the university, and to close the show he dropped a ridiculous, poignant assessment of the post-9/11 paranoia sweeping the NYC area. It was unbelievable, full of emotion, fire and passion, as well as tranquility and passive resistance energy, a cappella, I might add.
Tonight’s freestyle, over the walloping Hi-Tek produced backdrop, was of a different nature, saluting the diversity of the Bboys and girls in the crowd, calling out sucker MC’s (not by name) and delivering a borderline misogynist witty battle rhyme: “What, your girl don’t like givin’ head, that chick’s a no brainer!” that elicited a raucous ovation from both sexes and all races, and cementing the night’s integration, unification and celebration of all things Hip Hop. At this icing moment, it became overwhelmingly obvious that Talib Kweli is on some next level, complete shit. I have never seen an MC bring (by himself) the fire, brimstone, knowledge, game, wit and wisdom, on that plane of higher consciousness, sustained for such a long performance.
After leaving the stage, DJ Chaps reappeared behind the tables and asked Hip Hop’s rhetorical question: “Do y’all want some more?” Kweli reemerged and freestyled about how live he was feelin’ the crowd and then just bludgeoned us with the vibes-tinged BANGER “Eternalist”, where Kweli’s demonstrative control of breathing, flow, adrenaline, spirit, ferocity, smoothness, Bboy steez just exploded the song, scene, and the entire room, balcony, and side-stage people were just wildin’ out!
Just when you thought it was over, Kweli said he was having a party “up in here on this stage”, and about one third of the sold out crowd jumped onstage as DJ Chaps dropped the BEST Song for such a crucial moment, Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry About A Thing” followed by the Philadelphonic anthem, McFadden and Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stoppin’ us Now.” The scene onstage was a smattering of ladies and fellas of all creed and colors getting down, fo’ theirs’, and then Chaps laced Chic’s “Le Freak (Freak Out) > Get Your Freak On (Remix) and before you knew it, Philly was raving the f’% out!!
A Break circle broke out and this small Bgirl in a black Adidas warm-up was busting windmills and spins, and footwork to make any bro shudder. I was totally blown away first by this Bgirl breaking, and then just took back this incredibly inspiring scene of Kweli watching the breakers, and everybody just reveling in the most irie energy I maybe have ever bore witness to and shared in at a Hip Hop event. Even Robbie K’s lil’ bro Blake_One was onstage…getting’ down (fo’ his)!
And the conductor of this train of thought is Talib Kweli. Black Star. Revolution Calling. Messenger. Everyman. Philosopher. Father. Survivalist. The Eternalist.
Check Out Talib Kweli on Soulive’s “Bridge to ‘Bama” remix. Mos Def and Talib Kweli
Hearin the bass ride out like an ancient mating call.
[Published on: 5/15/02]
- ROBERT WALTER | 04.11.02 | THE FILLMORE (B.Getz on JamBase)
- THE DIARY OF A MADMAN | JAZZFEST 2002 (B.Getz on Jambase)