For nearly two decades, Talib Kweli has been one of hip-hop’s great minds, combining fierce intellect and killer flow with cool-headed songwriting and production. Over the course of his career, Kweli has released solo albums and has also collaborated with other musicians frequently. Striking a fine balance between his own original work and other collaborations, and has eight solo albums and seven associated records to his credit. This Friday, Jan. 18, he’s playing Yoshi’s in Oakland.
A career this extensive has seen Kweli wear many hats. Among other things, he’s a recording artist, an entrepreneur, and a social activist. He’s been in acts with other artists, including Black Star (with fellow Brooklynite Mos Def), Soulquarians, Idle Warship, Kanye West, Madlib, Styles P, and Reflection Eternal. In 2011, he created his own record label, Javotti Media.
It’s impressive, but in the era of mogul-as-standard, it’s still the music that marks an artist’s success. Kweli’s most recent work is a solo album, Radio Silence, released through Javotti Media, released in November 2017. The album opened to rave reviews from critics and Kweli loyalists alike, being praised as a much-awaited return to form. The record runs on Kweli’s signature bias toward soul-infused beats, and like most of his original work, has an integral theme – in this case, a stand against complacency.
The record is lyrically strong (surprising no-one) – another trademark Kweli move. The vocals and the rapping are impeccable, and they only get better with each listen. His latest work also proves that while many of his contemporaries like Lupe Fiasco or Kanye West have long moved on from soulful rap – with varying degrees of success – Kweli has gone deep, allowing his range of influences to enrich his work and extend what soulful rap can be.
Each time, he’s delivered something distinct and deep-thinking.
Kweli tracks are often equally preachy and positive, and his most recent works are no different. For instance, “The Magic Hour,” which is the opening number in Radio Silence, has lyrics that go “I live my life in the sunshine,” and then eventually progress to “I’m praying for a better tomorrow.” Celebrating, yet calling out and looking for the better things to come: it’s this dichotomy that makes Kweli’s records work.
Whether or not you’ve heard his most recent album (or the earlier ones), catching Kweli live is a whole different experience altogether. The energy is there, as is the soul-bending integrity in his message. That’s a rare combination, and he makes it work beautifully. If you’re in Oakland next Friday, you’re in luck. Yoshi’s is hosting Kweli on the night of 18th January, with two shows, at 8 and 10 pm. Yoshi’s is a classic venue, and an Oakland institution – while it’s a restaurant, there’s no risk of the dinner-theater vibe. It’s one of California’s best small music venues, perfectly set up, whether you want to relax and enjoy the music, or get up and make the most of it. Tickets are on sale now, and you’ll want to move quickly. Enjoy the show!
Photos courtesy of Press Here Now