Talib Kweli, Indigo2, London
Tuesday 02 February 2010
Most rappers want to tell you about where they are from, but few can take you there as completely as this compact performer from Brooklyn. One highlight of a rare European appearance is a zingy run through hip-hop classics and familiar samples. Talib Kweli freestyles over them all as if at a block party in a New York project.
His problem, though, is not so much where he is at, but where he is heading. Kweli emerged in the late-1990s as part of Black Star, with the brilliant Mos Def, and remained underground until he took the major-label shilling for 2007's Eardrum, a rambling sprawl of an album, confused by big-name involvement from Will.i.am and Justin Timberlake. The founder of his own Blacksmith label may rail against inequality, but from early on has tried to dodge the label of conscious hip-hop artist.
To pursue that agenda, he has titled his next solo album Prisoner of Consciousness, but before that comes a more low-key release. Kweli has returned to his side-project, Reflection Eternal, with Cincinnati producer DJ Hi-Tek – last heard 10 years ago. For Revolutions Per Minute, due in April, the artist who can count on contributions from the likes of Kanye West and Nas has gone back to basics. Live, the rapper performs solo with only his tour DJ on a bare stage and, frankly, this is all Kweli needs.
When lines are flowing in quick succession, his rhymes and rhythms are intoxicating, especially when DJ Chaps cuts off the backing tracks for Kweli to perform a cappella. Even on the more hard-hitting tracks, volume is expertly judged, so you hear the rapper clearly – and it pays to pay attention. On his only UK date of this run, he has a lot to get through, squeezing in number after number and little of the in-between patter that slows down momentum at so many hip-hop events. Kweli regularly runs tracks together, both the earlier album Eardrum's better tunes – that mix clever word-play with sharp hooks – and promising cuts from Revolutions.
At his best, Kweli fires high-velocity verses over Hi-Tek's no-nonsense productions built on sparse beats and warm soul samples. He is technically impressive, without taking the genre anywhere new. Nor does the son of two professors have much to say of contemporary relevance, bar a curt "Tony Blair is a criminal" tossed into a wider tirade against politicians.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits record low as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Germany sees 'visible rise' in support for far-right extremism in response to perceived 'Islamisation' of the West