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After two decades in the rap game, Talib Kweli is still fighting for what he believes in

Talib KweliBy Joseph Gray & Josh Herwitt //

Talib Kweli with Styles P, K’Valentine //
Belasco Theater – Los Angeles
January 19th, 2017 //

Talib Kweli has a lot to say.

Though he has often made headlines by feuding with critics, internet trolls and celebrities (even Kiss’ Gene Simmons of all people) on Twitter, the 41-year-old Brooklyn emcee is fine with governing the inconvenient space. Hell, his social-media presence, ripe with over one million Twitter followers, surely helped him garner an invitation — alongside a host of your favorite rappers — to visit The White House last year and discuss the best ways of reforming the criminal justice system with former President Barack Obama.

Kweli may never ride his social-media notoriety to Billboard‘s Hot 100 mountaintop like the meme-assisted Migos did with “Bad and Boujee” or video craze-pushed Rae Sremmurd with “Black Beatles”, but the veteran technician boasts an impressive rap résumé that has been built on razor-sharp lyricism and politically insightful artsy, both of which have dazzled so many hip-hop purists long before the genre overwhelmingly permeated the mainstream.

The reward for Kweli, despite never producing that big record to lift him to super stardom, is a loyal group of fans. Last Thursday in LA, many of them piled into the Belasco Theater’s lower bowl as part of “The Seven Tour” as Kweli made a point of acknowledging their longstanding love for him and hip-hop, even when it wasn’t the popular thing to do.

Talib Kweli & Anderson .Paak


Talib Kweli with Anderson .Paak

Hitting the stage with plenty of positivity, thought provocation and several surprises, Kweli punctuated a rewind of his classic Black Star work with Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) with “Definition” before raising fists and excitement with “Move Somethin'” and “The Blast”, two organic standouts from Reflection Eternal, the longstanding side project that he formed with Cincinnati rapper/producer Hi-Tek two decades ago. With the diverse crowd at The Belasco digging his collaborative work, Kweli reminded us there was more goodness to come in the form of his forthcoming project with Styles P called The Seven (the only strange part was the fact that the duo didn’t perform any songs together at the show).

Styles P, the well-respected member of The Lox and Kweli’s latest partner in crime, came on just prior to his tourmate’s hour-long set, donning a backpack full of his signature hard and vivid rhymes but missing just one thing: a shot of Rémy Martin. After a number of requests, that too made its way to the stage, much to the delight of the crowd.

Now whole and indebted, Styles P got the party started by climbing over the front barricade into a mob of concertgoers as the self-proclaimed gangster and gentleman also became the people’s champion. He assured us, despite the changing and chaotic political climate, we would prevail (“We Gonna Make It”), get high (“Good Times”), spend money (“B.M.F.”) and remember the same guy who went against hip-hop titans like Diddy and Jay Z and came out without a major chink in his armor (“What Else You Need to Know”).

While Styles P and special guest K’Valentine — the curvy Chicago rapstress who used her gifted flow to speak out against Chi-Raq and her city’s highly publicized problem with gun violence — were well-enjoyed, Kweli turned to some more of his friends for a stronger jolt. Playing to the crowd with a black Lakers cap, he called Naughty By Nature’s Treach up for some feel-good throwback hits before Southern California’s do-it-all wunderkind Anderson .Paak punched the building full of unbridled energy with “Come Down” from his Grammy-nominated album Malibu.

Talib Kweli

While the vibes were free-flowing, Kweli made sure his show would continue to lean left on the eve of Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration. Diverging from his material with some social dialogue, he took his good friend and “Get ‘Em High” collaborator Kanye West, actor and comedian Steve Harvey and others to task for being “crazy” enough to set foot next to President Trump.

“Trump can’t understand the black scholar. We can run the ball but can’t run the office,” he said in response to Trump’s recent meetings with prominent black entertainers like West and athletes such as former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and NFL legend Jim Brown.

With the laid-back atmosphere abruptly being replaced by the reality of continued racial and social issues in the U.S., Kweli walked off the stage. But like much of his career, he isn’t one to shy away from a fight.

Instead, he reappeared after encore chants to Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” as the backdrop of the famous song led into the determined “Get By”, still Kweli’s biggest hit that felt even larger amid the clapping crowd. On this night, whether it was convenient or not, the man with a lot to say made sure to give us a whole lot to think about.

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