Talib Kweli + Hi-Tek: Reflection Eternal, Train of Thought (2000)
Talib Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek’s is alternately incandescent and clouded, articulate and garbled. It’s far from an undisputed masterpiece, yet offers more rarefied moments of startling beauty than other certified classics can claim. Interestingly, it reveals Kweli to be a formidable womanist; able to transpose femininity with ease that belies his well-earned reputation as an erudite battle MCs. On tracks like the calm, blissful “Love Language,” he talks of male-female relationships like someone who has actually been in love, when “Things that are normally small become gigantic/Now you’re sinking like the Titanic/Here comes the panic.” Kweli raps so confidently, it’s natural for him to walk a tightrope balance between sensitivity (“Memories Live”), and coldness (“Down for the Count”), even within the same song (“Touch You,” a funky collaboration with Rick James and Piakhan). Hi-Tek’s grooves follow Kweli like a shadow, embellishing his words with supple basslines; on “Too Late,” he adds a hi-hat that trots along like a horse. Expansive enough to handle Kweli’s gushing of words, Hi-Tek keeps Train of Thought together when Kweli runs short on memorable choruses (“Eternalists,” “Move Somethin’”). Twenty tracks deep, Train of Thought offers much to digest. Several guests appear, including Black Star partner Mos Def, De La Soul, Gil Scott-Heron, Kool G. Rap, Weldon Irvine, and others. Save for a pivotal appearance by Les Nubians on “Love Language,” Kweli and Hi-Tek ably retain the spotlight as the former, one of the best verse writers in the business, overflows with lines, drowning Train of Thought with bales of catchphrases. “They ask me what I’m writing for/I’m writing to show you what we’re fighting for,” he says on “The Blast.” By record’s end, however, Reflection Eternal becomes too much to handle, threatening to become a 70-minute blur of butter beats and couplets. The duo offers an embarrassment of riches, from forays into club music (“Move Somethin’) to battle cuts (“Name of the Game”) and other experiments, while the real gems – songs like “Love Language,” “Memories Live,” and even “Touch You” – lie beneath the digressions. It would be foolhardy, however, to write off Reflection Eternal as a misadventure. Rawkus, with distribution by Priority Records.