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Friday, August 14, 2009

Excuse the Mess: In Which I Am Confused By Talib Kweli and Hi Tek

Posted by Andrew R Tonry on Fri, Aug 14, 2009 at 4:43 PM


For whatever reason I remember the day I bought Talib Kweli and Hi Tek's Reflection Eternal. It was a spring afternoon and I opened the door of my apartment and blasted that sucker into the U-shaped courtyard.

It wasn't that Reflection Eternal was the greatest album I'd ever heard, though it is remarkably solid and, at times, great. I just remember that day—I don't know why.

I do know that it was the last time Talib really had my full attention. Quailty never resonated as deeply, despite the infectiousness of "Get By." Perhaps Reflection, much like Mos Def's Black On Both Sides represented a closeness in tone and style to the bygone era of Black Star, a group which remains sorely missed (though it's only a matter of time until the duo regroups, if only for a moment).

So what's all this about? Excuse the mess, but that's where I'm at, as nine years after the fact Kweli and Hi Tek have teamed up again, touring "Reflection Eternal with a live band." They'll trot it out this Saturday at Roseland. At first it's intriguing, but execution should be quite interesting.

Reflection Eternal isn't necessarily an album that screams live band performance. It's old school, often minimal production that a band could easily overplay (and what is it about hip hop bands for hire that so often bring WAY too much rock and wank right on past the principles of driving bass and bass drum? And my God, the overwrought fill of the hip hop drummer with way too many pieces and a double bass pedal... DID ANY OF THESE SONGS HAVE CYMBOLS? HELL NO THEY DON'T!)

But then again, when the RIGHT band does hip hop live, hot damn, things can really pop. So who'll Hi Tek and Talib bring? And why assemble a live band if Tek, the DJ/producer, is a noteable half of the reunion? What does that leave for him to do? What the hell is going on here? And are they gonna play Reflection Eternal in its entirety? With track order observed?

Again, strange questions.

Reflection is a great collection of songs, but in their current sequence, most of the hot shit bangers—like "Move Somethin'," and "This Means You"—are front-loaded, while the album's final few tracks are mellow and sort of trail off—not the ideal set-list that peaks at the end.

Then we take into account the album's cameos, including De La Soul, Mod Def, and Rah Digga—they're important parts of some of the best tracks, which will be missing here. De La's contribution, the hook and most verses of "Soul Rebels" is one of the album's strongest. So what are Talib and Tek to do? Will Tek rap?—something he came into since after this album came out.

And though the billing says performing "Reflection Eternal" it's hard to believe they wont push the new single the duo have concocted, which is likely a main reason for the tour. And then do they venture into their solo stuff too?

God... So many questions. It's quite confusing, and I'm afraid all I've done here is spread out the mess. It's up to Tek and Talib to clean up. The hope being, of course, if they do so with thoughtfulness and care—which is Kweli's M.O.—this concert has the potential to be something special. That said, the potential pitfalls are many. And as such, this show might be worth checking out just to see what the how Tek and Talib navigate the strange and confusing road.

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