In the winter of 2000, conscious hip-hop”s poster child, Mos Def, spoke in a conference for the Martin Luther King symposium and afterward gave an outstanding concert performance following. Two years later, the circle is being completed, as his partner-in-rhyme Talib Kweli will be gracing Ann Arborwith his presence this Friday at The Hip-Hop Explosion as a part of the events surrounding the 15th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium. Commencing at 10 p.m. in The Michigan Union Ballroom, the show will feature local talent, as well as artists from the Detroit area, and will conclude with Kweli as headlining performer.
Brooklyn native Kweli, 26, comprises one-half of two established hip-hop duos: Reflection Eternal, with DJ Hi-Tek, and Black Star, with fellow MC Mos Def. “Back in the day, we used to hang out in the park together,” says Kweli of his compatriot. “We formed the group in around “97, but we became friends in “96. I had him on my single (“Fortified Live”), and he had his single (“Children”s Story”) out. We found ourselves on the same bills, so we segued our shows and formed a group.” The groundbreaking Black Star project dropped in 1998 on Rawkus Records, featuring a number of their older tracks, combined with new studio joints.
In October of 2000, Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek, ne Tony Cottrell, released their quintessential masterpiece Train of Thought, also on Rawkus. The album successfully managed to tread the line of commercial and underground hip-hop with more mainstream tracks like “The Blast” and “Down For The Count,” while still successfully maintaining a conscious air within his music. “Hi-Tek gave me an album where every track was banging,” says Kweli. “Not too many producers can do that it”s quite an accomplishment.” The majority of tracks that Kweli has spit over, including a number of joints from the Black Star project, have been produced by Hi-Tek, who released his own solo compilation in early 2000.
His next record is titled Quality, a solo album in which he will enlist the help of a range of different producers, excluding Hi-Tek. “I wanna switch it up this time around and try out some new producers,” he says of the project, which is scheduled for release in March. It will feature a number of producers, including veterans DJ Quik and Dave West.
Kweli”s style of music derives from many non-hip-hop influences, such as jazz and old school R&B music. A distinction can be made between his lyrical style and that of a more commercial rapper. “You”ve got the Outkasts, the Lauryn Hills and even the Jay-Zs who will be successful no matter what because they make music that reflects themselves,” says Kweli, “I think what I am bringing to the table is that I am just trying to be honest with my music and make music that reflects me.” Kweli”s rapid-fire battle flow and unique metaphors often result in impressed reactions from the audience.