If skills sold, Talib Kweli would have been one of the most commercially successful rappers of his time. As it was, however, the especially earnest MC became one of the most critically successful rappers of his time, which dawned in the late '90s when he rapped alongside Mos Def and DJ Hi-Tek as part of the group Black Star. This trio of up-and-comers and their widely acclaimed self-titled 1998 album debut helped make Rawkus Records one of the premier hip-hop outposts of the late '90s. In the process, they ushered in a short-lived "hip-hop" revival that took the music back to its roots, and thus away from the increasingly extreme and widespread gangsta motifs of the time. Black Star and their label, Rawkus, provided a clear alternative not only to gangsta rap but also to the watered-down and overly calculated pop-rap of Puff Daddy (Diddy) and his ilk. In 2000, Kweli and Hi-Tek then followed up this wide-ranging critical notice with a second acclaimed release for Rawkus: their Reflection Eternal album, which firmly established them apart from Mos Def, who enjoyed plenty of his own acclaim. For a moment there, Kweli and his Rawkus peers seemed like a full-fledged movement — a return to the sort of hip-hop associated with the so-called golden age. However, it wasn't to be. Rawkus somehow lost its momentum, and its roster sadly dispersed, leaving Kweli on his own to carry the torch. He steadily continued his output, beginning with Quality in 2002, and though he didn't rack up towering sales numbers, he remained a critical favorite. In fact, he just may have been the most admired and respected rapper on the major-label circuit during the mid-2000s, best evidenced by Jay-Z's famous Black Album rhyme: "If skills sold, truth be told/I'd probably be, lyrically, Talib Kweli."Born in Brooklyn as the eldest of two sons born to college professors, Kweli's first name, Talib, is an Arabic name meaning "the seeker or student," while his last name is a Ghanaian name meaning "of truth or knowledge." He began developing his literary gift in elementary school, when he'd write short stories, poems, and that sort of stuff. It wasn't until years later in high school that he turned to hip-hop as an outlet for his self-expression. There in high school he met a young Dante Smith, better known today as Mos Def. This fateful meeting further drew Kweli toward hip-hop, and another fateful meeting further convinced him that he had a bright future as an MC. During a 1994 trip to Cincinnati he met Tony Cottrell, aka DJ Hi-Tek, who at the time was part of a local rap group called Mood. Kweli impressed Hi-Tek during their time together, and the DJ invited the MC to guest on several tracks for Mood's 1997 album, Doom. Shortly afterward, Kweli and Hi-Tek formed a partnership as Reflection Eternal and recorded "Fortified Live," which a then-fledging Rawkus label released on its first Soundbombing compilation.A year later in 1998, the two invited Mos Def into the mix, and the Black Star album resulted. And with it came a steady downpour of critical acclaim that turned these guys into press darlings overnight. They might not have sold millions of albums, but Kweli, Hi Tek, and Mos Def most certainly impressed a great many people, among them critics, fellow rap artists, and a lot of folks who enjoyed a good old-fashioned hip-hop album with an emphasis on beats, rhymes, and life — not dramatized gunplay or interpolations of proven pop songs. That was the end of Black Star, however. In 1999 Mos Def released his one solo album, Black On Both Sides, and turned away from music and toward an acting career, leaving Kweli and Hi-Tek on their own. The duo returned to their Reflection Eternal partnership and released an album of the same name in 2000. It spawned a few minor hits — "Move Somethin'" and "The Blast" — but never really amounted to much more than yet more critical acclaim.When Kweli returned with his Quality album in 2002, things had changed a bit. For one, he was truly solo. Mos Def was long gone, and Hi-Tek was off focusing on his own solo career as a for-hire producer. So Quality featured Kweli collaborating with a host of different artists, among them a young and promising yet still largely unknown producer named Kanye West. "Get By" was the fruit of Kweli's collaboration with West, and it became the rapper's biggest hit to date, aided quite a bit by a non-album remix featuring Jay-Z of all people. The remix got a lot of radio play, but still, Quality didn't put up Jaz-Z numbers and Kweli remained a critical favorite, a reputation cemented all the more in late 2003 when Jigga gave him the aforementioned high-profile shoutout in "Moment of Clarity." All of this set the stage very well for The Beautiful Struggle, which dropped in fall 2004. The expectations for the album were gargantuan because of the Jay-Z rhyme, and also because a great many hip-hop disciples felt Kweli was long overdue for a commercial breakthrough. The album was undoubtedly his most commercial effort to date, featuring a few token radio-ready hook singers like Mary J. Blige and Anthony Hamilton, not to mention a roster of hitmaking producers like The Neptunes, Just Blaze, and Kanye. It was also Kweli's most self-conscious to date, however, as it was well apparent that the commercial pressures had begun to affect his mindset, for better or worse. He responded by splitting from his distributor, Universal, and signing with Koch. Right About Now was released in 2006.
Talib Kweli & Hi-Tek - Reflection Eternal (Oct 17, 2000)
After releasing a handful of essential 12"s on various Rawkus
Records projects in the late '90s, Talib Kweli and Dj Hi-Tek were on the verge of becoming one of hip-hop's best-kept secrets. Yet their original incarnation as a duo expanded into a triumvirate with the inclusion of Mos Def and transformed their eventual manifestation into Black Star, thwarting their initial bid for acclaim. While Kweli's stardom may have been initially eclipsed by his more charismatic cohort, Mos Def, Reflection Eternal houses enough merit to establish Talib as one of this generation's most poetic MCs. Kweli is a rare MC, as his lyricism resounds with a knowledge that transcends his still tender age. He does not aspire to reprogram the masses with this album, just rehabilitate them, as he laments on "The Blast": "They ask me what I'm writing for/I'm writing to show you what we fighting for." In an effort to celebrate life, Kweli breaks down hip-hop's obsession with death on "Good Mourning" and "Too Late." But it is his varied lyrical content that is most inspiring, effortlessly transitioning from the poignant circle-of-life epic "For Women" to the rugged "Some Kind of Wonderful" and "Down for the Count," featuring Rah Digga and Xzibit. While the unassuming, largely minimalist grooves that Hi-Tek supplied on Black Star's debut longed for a dramatic flair, he displays a remarkable maturation on Reflection Eternal. In fact, Tek's loping keyboard wails, soulful staccato claps, and shimmering piano loops are often sublime in their arrangement and outcome. Though Kweli and Hi-Tek's debut harbors over-ambitious tendencies, clocking in at over 70 minutes in length, they are a duo that will undoubtedly stain their memory into hip-hop's collective memory with this noteworthy debut. Welcome to the new generation of Native Tongue speaking.
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Talib Kweli - Quality (Nov 19, 2002)
While his erstwhile Black Star mate Mos Def concentrated on his acting career, Talib Kweli set about crafting a truly solo follow-up to his acclaimed debut, Reflection Eternal, this time with a variety of producers in place of partner DJ Hi-Tek. The excellent Quality only ups the ante, building on its predecessor's clear-minded focus with greater scope and a more colorful musical palette. Right off the bat, it's apparent that Kweli has traded his old-school minimalism for a warmer, richer sound — complete with some live instrumentation — that's immediately inviting and accessible. The opening trio of songs — "Rush," "Get By," and "Shock Body" — ranks among the most exciting music he's recorded, and the album only branches out from there. Kweli can pull off genial, good-time hip-hop like lead single "Waitin' for the DJ" and the DJ Quik -produced "Put It in the Air," and follow it with the blistering (and incisive) political fury of "The Proud." He reflects on his image as a so-called conscious rapper on "Good to You," and pushes its boundaries on the Cocoa Brovaz collaboration "Gun Music," where he twists the lyrical conventions of dancehall reggae to his own ends. Pharaohe Monch and The Roots' Black Thought put in exciting guest spots on "Guerrilla Monsoon Rap," and Mos Def appears on "Joy," where Kweli manages to describe the births of his two children without getting self-indulgent. A couple of the mellow R&B jams do get a little too mellow for their own good, drifting along and slowing the album's otherwise consistent momentum. Nonetheless, nearly everything Kweli tries works, and the array of producers keeps things unpredictable. Quality is proof that intelligent hip-hop need not lack excitement, soul, or genuine emotion; it's one of the best rap albums of a year with no shortage of winners.
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Talib Kweli - The Beautiful Struggle (Sep 28, 2004)
Something's not right when a high compliment — one laid down on wax, no less! — from a giant like Jay-Z doesn't set off a major sales spike. Such is the case with Talib Kweli, a phenomenal MC who has only flirted with mainstream acceptance, despite being admired by a host of harder-edged platinum artists. Rather than try to ride out that slow if steady momentum and see where it takes him, Kweli takes the power into his own hands and grabs for the brass ring. The Beautiful Struggle is far from a 180 for him, but it's just out of character enough to be awkward. Whether he's attempting to bridge the underground to the mainstream or simply pull away from the former, the results aren't wholly convincing. Not only is Kweli attempting to alter the way in which he's perceived through his own verses; he's also been keeping some unlikely company — a (superior) prealbum mixtape featured guest spots from Fabolous, Styles P, and G-Unit addition Shawn Penn. More than once on this album, Kweli's as anxious to lose his backpacking image as a fourth grader at 3 p.m. On the title track, he declares, "They call me the political rapper even after I tell 'em I don't f*ck with politics, I don't even follow it." He stands no chance of losing that tag when a line like "the motherf*cking Democrats is acting like Republicans" is contained within the same verse. Plus, he always has and always will excel at depicting facets of interpersonal politics. As much as The Beautiful Struggle is likely to catch longtime fans off-guard and leave mainstream followers indifferent, Kweli's unexpected moves appear to have more to do with trying new things — and possibly thwarting preconceived notions — than desperation. Still, there's no denying that it misses a little more than it hits.
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Talib Kweli - Right About Now (Nov 22, 2005)
1. Right About Now
2. Drugs, Basketball & Rap feat. Planet Asia & Phil Da Agony
3. Who Got It
4. Fly That Knot
5. Ms. Hill
6. Flash Gordon
7. Supreme Supreme feat. Mos Def
8. The Beast feat. Papoose
9. Roll Off Me
10. Rock On
11. Where Ya Gonna Run (feat. Jean Grae)12. Two & Two
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Just Like I Said...Mixtapes by Talib Kweli
Talib Kweli - The Beautiful Mix CD
01 rick james intro
02 move back
03 buck em down ft. styles p
04 get em ft. fabolous & paul cane
05 whack niggas ft. common, kanye west & consequence
06 phoenix ft. jean grae
07 conversation ft. busta rhymes
08 ghetto love ft. free
09 walk with me ft. shawn penn
10 b.d.k. ft. game & black thought
11 shame ft. self scientific, planet asia & strong arm steady
12 lonely people ft. latoiya williams
13 7:30 ft. res
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Talib Kweli - The Beautiful Mix Tape 2
1. Kay Slay Intro
2. The Struggle Continues feat. Common & David Banner
3. What It Is
4. It's Like That feat. Ludacris & The Game
5. Murderous feat. Kardinal Official
6. Teef's Theme feat. Jae Hood & Planet Asia
7. So Good feat. Wordsworth & Musiq
8. For The City feat. Phil The Agony
9. Hi-Tek Zone
10. On My Way feat. Snoop Dogg & Hi-Tek
11. So Hood feat. Ghostface
12. The Governement feat. M1 & Donte
13. Speak Clearly feat. Krondon & Jean Grae
14. My Mamma Said feat. Stic.Man
15. Slap Niggas feat. Saigon
16. Tryin' To Breathe feat. Killa Mike & Midi Mafia
17. Mos Def Speaks
18. Black Star - Supreme, Supreme
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Talib Kweli - The Best Of Talib Kweli
1. DJ Chaps
2. Reflection Eternal - 'The Time Is Now'
3. Subway Surfin feat. Rakim
4. Maurico (Freestyle)
5. Fly That Knot
6. Beef 2 feat. Murder Mook
7. On Top feat. Krondon
8. Who Got It
9. Tek & Steele feat. Talib Kweli - 'Crystal Stair'
10. Stay High (Freestyle) feat. Rass Kass
11. Reflection Eternal feat. Snoop, Slim Thug - 'How We Do It'
12. Bun B feat. Talib Kweli - 'None Of Us Are Free'
13. David Banner feat. Dead Prez, Talib Kweli - 'Ridin'
14. Fallin' Star
15. Michelle N'degeocello - 'Hot Nite'
16. Zion I feat. Talib Kweli - 'Temperature'
17. Kanye feat. Common, Qtip, Talib Kweli, Rhymefest - 'We Can Make It Better'
18. Danger Doom feat. Talib Kweli - 'Old School Rules'
19. Jaylib feat. Talib Kweli - 'Raw Shit'
20. Black Eyed Peas feat. Talib Kweli, Cee-lo, Q-Tip, John Legend - 'Like That'
21. Leela James feat. Talib Kweli - 'Music (Remix)
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