Band Concert Review
Talib Kweli: The Blacksmith bangs on Highline Ballroom's Eardrum
Highline Ballroom - New York, NY, United States - May 18, 2007
By Sam Frank
Highline Ballroom became the house of the Blacksmith as Talib Kweli used his lyrical gift to verbally flood a mob of enthusiastic fans that waited in a line longer than those at Disney World to enter the show. Born in Brooklyn, NY, Talib Kweli (pronounced Ta-lib Qua-lee), whose name is a mixture of Arabic and Swahili meaning student of truth, has spent the past decade becoming one the most prolific rappers in Hip Hop by using his insightful gift of gab to cultivate knowledge to listeners around the world.
Kweli first tasted success in 1998 after teaming up with fellow rapper Mos Def to form the seminal group Blackstar. After the success of Blackstar's self-titled debut album Kweli ventured on to another side project called Reflection Eternal, where he joined forces with Cincinnati born producer Hi-Tek to create the album Train of Thought in 2000 before putting out his critically acclaimed solo debut, Quality, in 2002. His second solo album, The Beautiful Struggle, followed in 2004 and included the song "I Try," which brought Kweli moderate success, but not enough to earn him mainstream marketability. In 2005, Kweli left Rawkus Records to start his own label with his longtime manager, Corey Smyth, called Blacksmith Records. "I want [Blacksmith] to be a flag that everyone can wave." explains Kweli on his website www.talibkweli.com . Although Kweli has produced a series of mixtapes and compilations under the Blacksmith moniker a full-length solo album has yet to be released, but that is set to change this coming July when he plans to drop his highly anticipated Eardum album. "The image of the ear and of the drum are powerful enough by themselves, but when you put them together, it's an instrument that's in your body that helps you hear," describes Kweli on his website. "I wanted to focus on something that makes you move," and with zealous fans packed tighter than a tuna can on Highline Ballroom's spacious floor Kweli incited movement from the crowd as he simultaneously rapped while running across the stage.
With DJ Chaps on the wheels of steel and two sultry back up singers at each corner of the stage Kweli had no problem grabbing the crowd's attention with his veracious words of wisdom. Visuals of iconic black figures such as Run DMC, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcom X flashed on the screen behind DJ Chaps, adding emotional weight to the words that reverberated throughout Highline Ballroom's breathtaking sound system. As Kweli performed songs spanning his illustrious career his dance rhythms appeared to correlate with the emotional intensity of the lyrics, as if the words were controlling him rather than the other way around. On many occasions DJ Chaps would break a beat; thus, forcing Kweli to adjust a word's inflection, which in turn would alter the groove of Kweli's dance movement. This subconscious communication between Kweli and Chaps was so fluid that it never interrupted the show's energetic vibe. Besides performing flawless renditions of classic hits like "The Blast" from Train of Thought, "Respiration" (minus Common) from Blackstar, and Quality's "Get By" he incorporated a few freestyles backed by beats ranging from the Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" all the way to Mims top selling single, "This Is Why I'm Hot." During the "This Is Why I'm Hot" freestyle Kweli did not fail to mention Don Imus and his disapproval for people who call women derogatory names. Kweli finished the show with a few tracks from Eardrum, which included the album's first single, "Listen !!!," also featured in the EA Sports video game NBA Live '07.
Kweli's performance was an hour and a half show that b-boys of all ages could have enjoyed because the lyrics just kept flowing without ever becoming whack. By whack I mean boring or fruitless, which is the kind of Hip Hop that crowds the pop charts while conscious artists like Talib Kweli, Blackalicious, Guru, etc. release albums that get slept on repeatedly. Don't misunderstand me, Hip Hop is a multi-faceted cultural revolution that includes many forms of spoken word expressionism, and not everyone can dance to music that is meant to spark thoughts about our worldly existence; but for people like Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones to comment that Hip Hop leaves him cold is evidence that the essence of all Hip Hop is being overshadowed by rappers who lack the education or desire to write lyrics that positively impact today's youth. Kweli himself believes that "we need to challenge our audience but we also need to challenge ourselves to know that whatever our new experiences are, we can write about them, be creative and bring that to an audience without them feeling alienated." Talib Kweli gives hope to Hip Hop, and it's rappers like him that will keep the game alive for years to come.