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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 29, 2002

A master of thoughtful hip-hop

By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Staff Writer

 •  Talib Kweli

With DJs Jedi, Kavet the Catalyst, Rise Up and others

9 p.m. today at All Star Hawaii, 2080 Kalakaua Ave.; and Saturday at Garden of Saigon, 1041 Nu'uanu Ave.


Friday, 955-8326; Saturday, 537-6971

The arrival of hip-hop emcee Talib Kweli for a couple of performances this weekend can't help but dredge up misty memories of a time when rap seemed to have more artists like him. Or if not that, a time when mainstream rap audiences seemed more eager to take a chance on artists like Kweli, while picking up a Tone Loc CD.

The 28-year-old Kweli's lyrical style is like a thoughtful throwback to militant, turn-of-the-'90s Public Enemy and vintage laid-back De La Soul literacy. Kweli's intelligent and politically charged lyrics borrow these artists' inspirational themes — love, cultural pride, etc. — and update them for a very different rap audience.

Brooklyn-raised Kweli (his first name is Arabian for "seeker or student," his surname is Ghanaian for "of truth or knowledge") got his start doing freestyle at open-mike nights, most famously at New York City's legendary Lyricists Lounge. In 1994, Kweli met up with DJ Hi Tek (real name Tony Cottrell).

The two struck up a friendship and formed Reflection Eternal, releasing their debut single "Fortified Live" in 1997 on indie hip-hop label Rawkus Records. A friendship with lyricist Mos Def — who Kweli met while studying experimental theater at NYU — led to the 1998 underground hip-hop classic "Black Star."

In late 2000, Kweli and Hi Tek teamed up again for the full-length CD "Reflection Eternal ... Train of Thought" which featured guest shots from Xzibit, Mos Def and De La Soul.

Kweli's first solo CD, tentatively titled "Quality," will be released later this year into a hip-hop marketplace dominated by acts such as Ja Rule, Ludacris and Jay Z. Sadly, it's also a marketplace that has left little room for bookish lyricists such as Kweli (who avoids glorifying materialism, misogyny and the gangsta-life in his work) to gain much notoriety beyond critical praise, college radio spins or niche CD sales.