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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Talib Kweli to play Brandeis

Published: September 16, 2005
Section: Arts, Etc.

One of the most important hip-hop artists of the past decade will be paying Brandeis a visit on October 9th. While Talib Kweli may not rule the top of the Billboard music charts, like more famous MCs such as 50 Cent, it seems more fitting that an artist who illustrates his songs with socially and politically conscious lyrics and name drops luminary author Norman Mailer plays Brandeis than a rapper who fills his songs with lyrics composed of various derogative names for women and needless greed.

Although Kweli may not have the big-name presence of many hip-hop elite, his presence in the hip-hop world is one that is unmistakably important, a fact that Sharon Makowsky, Assistant Director of Major Entertainment for Student Events, wholly recognizes. Talib Kweli is a performer we have repeatedly looked into for Brandeis, and this semester all the cards just happened to fall into place, Makowsky said in a statement on the show, noting both Student Events thirst for a hip-hop act and also mentioning the positive response to last semesters planned Mos Def show. Numbers and statements aside, Kwelis upcoming appearance at Brandeis may be a hip-hop show more fitting than any other possible performer of the genre.

Since the Brooklyn-raised MC blasted into the hip-hop underground stratosphere with Black Star in 1998, a project with fellow MC and friend Mos Def and backing instrumentals courtesy of DJ Hi-Tek, Kweli, along with his collaborators, were met with incredible critical acclaim. Although not a tremendous success, the self-titled release placed both Kweli and Mos Def in the eyesight of the hip-hip community, with every song depicting the brutality of the still-popular genre of gangsta rap and its effect on the community, as well as the hardships of being a black male in American society. Black Star proved not only to be an important introduction to more intellectual rap as well as Kweli, but also opened the door for the current underground rap movement that has provided somewhat substantial success and critical acclaim for artists ranging to the emo-rap of Minnesotas Atmosphere to the politically conscious rhymes of Bostons Perceptionists.

While Black Star may have been more than enough to reserve Kweli a spot on the roundtable of hip-hops great, he went on to make several more albums. In 2000, Kweli teamed up with Hi-Tek (this time without Mos Def) to record Reflection Eternal, which was built off of some of Kweli and Hi-Teks earlier collaborating and met with equal acclaim. Kweli finally stepped out into the world of rap on his own in 2002 with his solo effort Quality, which continued to garner respect from the critically elite in the music world. Last years The Beautiful Struggle wasnt as well received as his previous albums, but Kweli didnt slow down, making a guest appearance on Kanye Wests well-received The College Dropout and working on a self-titled album that will be released later this year.

Kweli is indeed one of the most unheralded musicians in hip-hop, a fact that even Jay-Z recognized in his goodbye album to the rap world, the Black Album. Yet, despite the notable guest appearances on highly regarded albums, ranging from Kanyes The College Dropout to the Roots Phrenology, in the eyes of the mainstream, Kweli is practically absent. This may be exactly why Kweli is the perfect fit to perform at Brandeis.

At an institution that proudly displays its originality, inventiveness, and openness, Kwelis appearance at Brandeis almost feels like the perfect college application wrapped into a musician. His ability to blend ingenious rhymes with incredibly thoughtful prose without resorting to glorifying violence or putting down members of the opposite gender is truly remarkable. Above that, the instrumentals which accompany his inventive rhymes are above all better than most recycled beats that modern mainstream rappers try to pass as music, such as the sample of the Police on Kwelis Around my Way.

Yet, ability aside, the thing that may overshadow, or push Kweli further into the limelight, is his effect on the music world. Like the Pixies and their influence on Nirvana, easily one of the greatest musical outfits since the Beatles, Kweli may end up being better known as the MC who helped save rap than the MC who did save rap. Although Kweli put out one of the most ingenious rap albums of the past decade with Black Star, the commercial success seemed to override him and fall into the hands of Kanye West, a rapper who, if not for Kweli, may not be as commercially accepted as he is today. The same can be said of nearly dozens of other rap acts across the country riding upon the wave of thought-provoking hip-hop that was initially started by Kweli (among others).

Influence aside, there is a reason that Kweli and his various counterparts are the corner stone of a growing revolution in the hip-hop community facing bland, repetitive mainstream rap. When it comes down to it, not only does Kweli have the inventiveness, he also has the graceful skills to provide for awe-inspiring rhyming which have won him fans and critics alike. If his ability to mirror Brandeis best qualities as a hip-hop artist is any indication, then his performance on October 9th should be one of the best Student Events has had to offer.