Last week, I had the chance to experience something unique: Talib Kweli brought a live jazz-rock band (Whiskey Boys Band) and vinyl-spinning DJ Spintelect to the small, yet prestigious Blue Note Jazz Club for a celebration of his debut album, Quality, turning 15 years old. Not many Hip-Hop fans know of Talib Kweli, even when thinking of Black Star counterpart Mos Def and dear friends Kanye West and Pharrell Williams, which is preposterous. In fact, for fans of Kanye’s first three albums, definitely check out Talib Kweli. Also, an influential social activist, the Brooklyn native uses his Hip-Hop clout to spread awareness on the realities of racial stereotypes and police brutality. His latest album, Radio Silence, is a soul-infused conscious album that requires multiple listens to reveal the full meaning behind each line. It serves as an updated feel to Quality, and features stars like KAYTRANADA, Anderson .Paak, Rick Ross and BJ The Chicago Kid.
But this show preludes his tour. For the New Yorker, this is really a chance to let loose and have fun before hitting the road. The set consisted of several covers in addition to hits from his first album, spanning from global hit “Get Em High” (Kanye West) to pre-Hip-Hop classic “I Get High” (Aretha Franklin) to a genre-bending cover of “Eleanor Rigby” (The Beatles). To start from the beginning, we arrived at the venue right before a long line queued down the block, consisting solely of Talib fans. We sit down at our table that is touching the stage. We’re primed for an amazing night. DJ Spintelect got fans in the mood, starting off with “Hol’ Up” (Kendrick Lamar) for the Section .80 fans, and worked backward through time with Hip-Hop classic after Hip-Hop classic. Next comes the band, strutting through the crowd of seated individuals. After jamming for a few minutes, the crowd is seemingly warmed up enough in a seated groove, and out comes the man of the night: Talib Kweli. His outfit set the stage for a casual atmosphere, standing on stage sporting a Wu-Tang shirt, camo cargo pants, and some high tops. He was there to have fun and wanted to make sure we could join him. Throughout, he would rely on crowd participation, and cracked jokes even during songs, really embracing the rebelliously charming spirit of jazz that matched the setting of the club. Yet, from a musical perspective, he perhaps relied on the band too much in the first half of the set. But, that didn’t matter much, as this concert was about the entire experience rather than the musical integrity.
Things started to heat up for him when he dropped new song “The One I Love” with multiple band members covering BJ The Chicago Kid’s part beautifully. Soon thereafter, the band bridged into “Eleanor Rigby”, for which Talib Kweli insisted that the crowd listen to Paul McCartney “spit bars”, and then spit bars of his own, conjuring an incredible verse over the track’s strings and the band’s ferocious groove. The next highlight came when he called Lisa Fischer on stage, who launched her career as the dominant feature on The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” and “Monkey Man”. The two mesh perfectly on stage for a jazzier rendition of “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” (Roy Ayers), which served as the climactic moment of the show; everybody was on their A-game at this point. After some incredible solos by each band member, Talib brought it back for “Get Em High” and “Geurilla Monsoon Rap” (Talib Kweli). To promote his upcoming tour, he then turns to Lisa Fischer to cover Rick Ross in “Heads Up Eyes Open” before closing out the show with four straight Quality hits, pun intended. His closer, “Get By” is arguably his biggest, and he performed it as if it was: the room was filled with people singing and rapping along. Those last four minutes wrapped up the show emotionally, as his legacy was solidified in that moment. The one word I would use to describe the night: fun. Although the tour is surely going to be more buttoned up and have a less casual air, I highly recommend catching a show or two. I will be.
- Sam Harkey
Photos by: Derek Jones
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