Talib Kweli brings progressive modern approach to old school hip hop

talib-kweli2Talib Kweli has always been on the progressive end of the hip hop spectrum. In the 90s his intelligent lyrics earned him the label of conscious rapper, and his collaborative approach to making music saw him team up with luminaries from Hi-Tek to Mos Def over the years. It was only natural then that his show at Venue on Saturday night gave nods to his musical influences from reggae to rap.

Locals KIDS, referencing the bro rap that Beastie Boys pioneered, and the DJ team the Dynasty Boys set the tone with plenty of old school tunes by the likes of Dead Prez, Gang Starr and A Tribe Called Quest.

Prevail & Neph from local legends Swollen Members were billed as Alpha and Omega, but technical problems prevented them from performing, although Prevail managed to spit some lyrics a cappella while the tech guys twiddled with the laptops. The theme of the night soon became showing love for the 90s style of lyrical hip hop and also a love of Canada – decked out in a We Are the North Toronto Raptors ball cap and giving regular shout-outs to Vancouver, Talib Kweli took the stage and gave the crowd what they wanted: a back catalogue of favourite tracks mixed with some new numbers.

Kweli has stage presence, unlike some rappers who can be a hot mess live, and he kept command of the crowd. Whether it was asking people to get their lighters out while he riffed on Mos Def’s “Umi Says” or asking someone to roll him a joint while the DJ played Rick James’s ode to the green stuff, “Mary Jane”, Kweli kept up the energy in the room.

In a nod to the old school, he took the audience on a tour of reggae’s roots with a DJ mash-up that ranged from Bob Marley to Max Romeo. Along the way he gave a shout-out to the single people in the house and expressed his love for the Beatles with the “Eleanor Rigby” sample that segues into “Lonely People” from The Beautiful Mix CD.

His love for the original songs is evident, whether it was Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” forming the basis of his biggest hit, “Get By”, or Redbone’s “Clouds in My Sunshine” on “This Means You” from his collaborative album with Hi-Tek, Reflection Eternal.

Kweli performed a few favourites from this collaboration such as “The Blast”, “Move Something”, and “RPM” and also gave some respect to Mos Def with his solo rendition of Black Star’s “Definition”.

With nearly two decades of discs under his belt, Kweli also asked the crowd (very politely) if they wanted to hear some new tracks. From “State of Grace”, which was released on the EP Gravitas through his online Kweli Klub, to an intro to his new compilation, Train of Thought: Lost Lyrics, Rare Releases & Beautiful B-Sides, they were well received. A roar shot through the room when he came back for an encore and played some unreleased tracks from his free album, due to be downloadable in the next week or so, appropriately titled Fuck the Money.

In a genre saturated  with heavy trap beats and rap-by-numbers, seeing Talib Kweli perform was a refreshing blast from the past, and taste of the future.