Talib Kweli is a teacher, a commodity rarer in rappers than its initially ambitious roots presaged. Public Enemy’s Chuck D once called hip-hop the CNN for the black community, but if that’s still true the news is just another sad-ass reality show, down to the canned plots and fixated narcissism. (T-Pain, anyone?)
Kweli is a throwback to a better nature, “old school” in more ways than one. He cut a pair of classics with producer Hi-Tek, the eponymous “Black Star” named for the trio that also included Mos Def and “Train of Thought” a couple years later, when the duo called itself Reflection Eternal and achieved a near-perfect balance between Kweli’s erudite sermons and Tek’s strikingly orchestral production flourishes (both more flamboyant than their Black Star performances). Another Reflection Eternal disc has been long rumored and arriving in dribs and drabs, but the best news is that Kweli and Hi-Tek are touring together as part of this year’s Rock The Bells show.
The rest of the lineup isn’t too shabby either. Slaughterhouse is a new crew studded with former stars, most notably Joe Budden, a glorious East Coast rapper renowned for his superior mix tapes and athletic asides (expect a Favre reference somewhere in the mix). Slum Village, which has played First Ave as part of the Roots’ Okay Player tour in the past, is normally a fiercely politically conscious group that this time out bears too many crosses: the loss of producer J Dilla, whom the group was already planning to commemorate, and the more recent passing of rapper Baatin to a reported drug overdose. Finally, speaking of memorials, nobody in rap history has laid down a better tribute to the fallen (and the competition has been stiff) than producer Pete Rock fashioned with CL Smooth on “They Reminisce Over You (Troy).” Rock will share the stage with Supernatural, who has gained a solid rep as an inventive free-styler, making it up as he goes along. Aren’t we all.
Here is Kweli and Tek performing a new tune, the appropriately titled “Back Again,” in April of this year. Here is a new track from Slaughterhouse (warning: grimy lyrics and themes). And here is the permanently transcendent Rock and Smooth tune.
Rock the Bells hip-hop show at First Avenue, Saturday, Aug. 22; doors open at 5 p.m.; $30.