Hailing from the borough of Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, Talib Kweli’s vigorous artistic vision began to blossom at an early age, and the quality of that expression has appreciated immensely over time.
The Brooklyn native began developing his craft during his elementary years, but it wasn’t until he reached high school that he turned to hip-hop music as an outlet for his self-expression. Talib met a young Mos Def during that time in his life; the auspicious meeting drew him further toward hip-hop. And as the old adage goes: the rest was history.
Talib Kweli graced Denver’s Ogden Theatre this past snowy, Sunday night. When he is performing, it is simple to recognize why his presence commands respect. Kweli owns the stage; he puts on an incredible show without the use of frivolous theatrics, of which many modern artists consistently rely on in order to keep their audiences engaged. Notorious for his fearless talent and not reckless behavior (which is a theme commonly relished by the mainstream media), he is respected by many heavy-hitters in the hip-hop community. His work conveys intelligence and quality. His esteemed status backs that up.
With an impressive crew in tow, Kweli shared the night with Pharaohe Monch, 9th Wonder, Rapsody, and Trayce Chapman. The night’s set list included some of Talib Kweli’s major hits and also featured some surprises. Throwing down his beloved tracks which fans already appreciate, he also switched it up when transitioning seamlessly into his bass-driven version of a Beatles’ classic, Eleanor Rigby. This type of versatility epitomizes his credibility as a unique, talented artist. Of course being in Denver, the flagship American home of legalized cannabis, Kweli gave us a Get ‘em High and the blunts were simultaneously a-blazin’ throughout the building.
Mr. Kweli certainly takes his performances a step beyond the expected. While an unfamiliar audience member might expect to hear content ripe with references to money, sex, and drugs, this artist challenges his spectators to maintain awareness in a world that is eager to crush autonomy. Even in a packed room, the vibe felt personal because of the interactions and discourse Kweli had with the crowd.
Talib, is an Arabic name meaning “the seeker or student,” and Kweli is of Ghanaian origin meaning “of truth or knowledge”, which is fitting considering his passion for raising awareness about the disenfranchised. He is no stranger to opening the dialogue for conversations about racism, police violence, and other aspects of social inequality in an effort to inspire hope and initiate change.
Not one to bite his tongue, his messages are uplifting and function as a call to action, albeit his clear contempt for the pervasiveness of injustice. Kweli isn’t a stranger to speaking out on social issues that are close to his heart. Conversely this has seemingly prompted Kweli to “realize that he was limited in a sense, a prisoner of sorts of his own success as one of the world’s best rappers with something significant to say”; the importance he places on using his platform to discuss authentic issues sometimes can outweigh the value of his work from a purely musical standpoint.
Kweli: “My music has been associated with those types of causes, with positivity, spirituality, intelligence and being thought-provoking and such,” he says. “I think sometimes people get caught up in that part of me as an artist and don’t necessarily understand the musicality or fully appreciate the music and the entertainment value behind what I do”
That being said, it is important for our time that we have a prominent voice communicating truths within our current musical landscape (which is ostensibly overrun with tracks full of superfluous subject matter and unoriginal, clichéd material). We should embrace the performers that are not only willing to, but also brave enough to use their notability as a tool to prompt people to break out of the box they typically think inside of. It takes a true pro to pull off combining of lyrical content of substance with dope, original beats.
To challenge the status quo is courageous. For this reason, Kweli has earned his stripes as one of the most insightful, socially conscious, and gifted rappers to emerge within the past two decades; politically he is educated, musically he has the ear, and lyrically he is a beast. That’s a triple threat, in my book. | RG
quotes sourced from Mr. Kweli’s website