Among the likes of Mos Def, pre-G.O.O.D. Music era Common, Q-Tip and Black Thought, Talib Kweli is widely considered a “conscious” rapper.
The conscious rapper is one whose lyrical content, for the most part, is often not demeaning like its mainstream, commercial-friendly counterparts. Conscious rappers seek answers in complex themes, rather than adhering to the gun-clack, trap-rap hit single formula popular in hip-hop today.
But conscious rappers, often categorized under hip-hop sub genre alternative hip-hop, have their flaws as well. Some can be condescending. Earlier this year, kick-pusher-turned-outspoken-rapper Lupe Fiasco received backlash for his album Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1. His good intentions came off as belittling and preachy—a how-to-make-hip-hop-“better”-for-dummies guide that no one really cared about.
Fortunately, Talib Kweli is not one of those guys. He likes to kick back and have a good time, rap a little bit and play music from his own personal collection. This description of the praised lyricist basically reflects his performance at the Mohawk this past Saturday.
Prior to Kweli’s set, two local groups took the stage: Lyric and 10 YR. The former was a nice warm-up but the latter was incredible. If Kweli had contracted sickness from a nearby food truck 10 minutes prior to his set and could not perform, the crowd probably would have been fine with 10 YR continuing their set.
Frontwoman Yadira Brown and co-vocalists Allysa Grace and Lani Thomison are Austin’s white Destiny’s Child or TLC. I came to the conclusion that they’re the latter because they have more attitude, and Brown has the intimidating charm of the great Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes.
Accompanied by a keyboardist, two guitarists and a very animated drummer by the name of Dwayne “D-Madness” Johnson, the group performed a set that consisted of booty-shaking, neo-soul jams. Aside from being a talented drummer, Johnson is also a great beat-boxer. Throughout certain songs he would make bass thumps and high-pitched sounds that would even leave Doug E. Fresh impressed.
Once 10 YR finished the Mohawk’s crew began to setup for Kweli’s set. Nostalgic, golden age hip-hop played in the background, setting the mood for the performance that was to come. Blunts were burning, drinks were passed around, fans talked about seeing Kweli multiple times and how his shows are always incredible.
This was my first time seeing Kweli, and the discussion of his past performances made me even more excited.
With his backing band onstage the group began Kweli’s set with “Cold Rain,” a track from last year’s Gutter Rainbows. “This is for the day-trippers and the hipsters,” rapped Kweli vigorously. He knew the crowd he was appealing to, that’s for sure.
Kweli had to take on the responsibility of being DJ for his group, since his personal DJ could not make the show. And somehow he made it all work. In between performing songs spanning his entire discography, Kweli took some time to play vinyl cuts including Heatwave’s “Boogie Nights,” alternative hip-hop cohort Mos Def’s “Umi Says” and even Black Star’s “Definition.”
And Kweli’s backing band deserves acknowledgment too. Effortlessly going through renditions of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and the Peanuts’ “Theme Song,” the group switched between songs seamlessly, maintaining plenty of energy until the very end.
Of course Kweli did “Get By” and it was great. Followed by that he was brought back onstage for an encore, and killed it.
Kweli’s performance was definitely enjoyable. The guy can certainly rock the mic and leave you wanting more, and this show was a testament to that.