Reflection Eternal – Revolutions Per Minute | Album Review

“If Jay-Z makes rap look easy, Kweli makes rap look hard”.

I utterly believe this opening quote can be used as a summary for the BK emcee’s career. Going deeper in the rabbits hole, a stupendous emcee: chameleonic and acrobatic flows, relevant and diverse subject matter in the much arid panorama of substance that composes American rap, unparalleled understanding of the “Dilla” thump and aesthetics and unique vocal chords culminating with his biggest weapon, tremendous lyricism annexed with positivism and consciousness. Shoes many rappers try to fill, but so very few manage to walk in.

These gifts and accomplishments result in a Prometheus cult following that hasn’t faded over a decade. Talib Kweli has nothing to prove and is hungry still, that’s incredible and it’s the type of cloth that legends and hall of famers are usually cut from. The curse, on the other hand, lies in diluting these skills effectively when constructing songs, his Achilles heel. On a Kweli verse there will always be sick lines, but we are guaranteed to lose him as well for a few bars. That’s alright in battle verses but in story telling it exposes him and the songs suffer; either because of excess of flow in exploring a topic or nonsense causing noise in the overall context of theme.

Ironically the lyrical magnum opus of the album comes from a story telling piece “Ballad Of The Black Gold”, a beautiful description of the ills of oil both in the 1st and 3rd world. The text isn’t the most tidy, going in and out of subjects recurrently but still a gem and probably one of Kweli’s best lyrical efforts ever – especially when protected by extremely underrated producer DJ Hi-Tek, regarded by many as borderline genius.

The Mpc user has a sensitivity for sampling the most angelic and godly of sounds, his drums talk with Dilla‘s grave and owe Madlib nothing. It’s sick how he marries organic sounding base lines with vast arrays of meticulously laid drum patterns. His attention to detail in post production, drums and samples are immaculate. This Cincinnati Drum lord will never produce superstars, but fuck that, the essence of Hip Hop is in him, it’s the pinnacle of what boom bap is in 2010. When I hear mentions of top 10 producers, I hear cliché lists like Just Blaze, Alquemist, Premier, Swizz Beats, 9th Wonder etc… All greats – but it’s blasphemy to leave him out of it.

The Reflection Eternal debut was so epic that it almost defined Hip Hop in 2001. Hip Hop was a Berlin wall sloppily divided into underground and mainstream, this album separated the gate between Hip Hop and Hip-Pop, a beacon of purity, a definite classic, done in the fashion of the genesis of the movement, a true spitter and a DJ.

10 years later, the threshold to make a new classic was too high with the decay of lyricism in the charts, genocide of originality with top emcees like Lil’ Wayne – who is the most limited and dumb Hip Hop ever had spearheading the movement of swagger and internet shock culture the only criteria used to weigh an emcee nowadays – the value of “train of thought” only became more special and phenomenal.

However the comeback is still a beautiful effort and a great comeback, easily four mics, not more because of Kweli’s limitations, previously explored and an excess of songs another of his traits (“Back Again,” “Midnight Hour” and “Long Hot Summer” are decent songs but totally unnecessary). Maybe Common should co-produce his records instead of Sha money in the future. Hi-Tek always brings something new and Kweli aptly adapts. awesome album, easily one of the best this year. The last song, “My Life” makes us feel like Kweli should have never left Hi-Tek, especially for so long.

Reflection, you were missed. That being said, so was real Hip Hop. Welcome home.

–Hugo Salvaterra

Revolutions Per Minute is out now via Blacksmith/Rawkus/Warner Bros.

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