VOTE NOW FOR THE BEST OF ORLANDO® 2021!

The way we were 


Reflection Eternal (Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek)
Revolutions Per Minute
(Warner Bros.)

At the turn of the millennium, rapper Talib Kweli and producer DJ Hi-Tek joined forces as Reflection Eternal. Together, they birthed 2000's Train of Thought, an inspirational conscious-rap touchstone as seminal in its own right as Midnight Marauders or 3 Feet High and Rising or whichever Roots disc you care to name. Tangling together knotty, knowing rhymes full of stressed syllables, casual bravado, when-in-Rome-profanity and a kinetic positivity, Kweli preached virtuoso hip-hop progressivism-by-example over Hi-Tek's warm, granola soul-funk grottos and head-knocking drums, decrying chart-hop‘s shallowness and materialism while offering a viable alternative. Better yet, the duo sold Train as a block party soundtrack, inviting Dave Chappelle to do impressions (Gil Scott-Heron, Rick James, Nelson Mandela, you name it), tossing the mic to Mos Def and Rah Digga for inspired turns and floating ethereal instrumentals that heightened the mood while maintaining the overall flow.

What a difference a decade makes. The duo's follow-up,

Revolutions Per Minute, registers as a calculated, of-the-moment product, a de-centered aesthetic free-for-all. (Chappelle is absent this time around; instead, comic relief is limited to a bunch of silly Lyor Cohen imitations.) The intoxicating Blue-Note "Just Begun" — which will have surpassed mixtape critical mass by the time you read this sentence — is an example of the amorphously poly-sci vibe Minute should have aimed for all along, with Mos Def, Jay Electronica and J. Cole dropping in to spit sharp, sticky science.

But Hi-Tek throws paradigm after shiny paradigm at his partner: tinny ringtone pap, post-Timbaland E.T. bounce and what sounds like a pale imitation of Billy Joel's "Tell Her About It" ("Get Loose"). And what they get right — "Ballad of the Black Gold" as African-history Cliff Notes; "Lifting Off" making anti-drug rhetoric feel almost hep — is sabotaged by what remains of Kweli's rap cadence.

That once mighty (if dispassionate) flow was an expertly wielded ball-peen hammer. The years have worn it down to a floundering corkscrew; a swollen ego and lazier, more superficial lyricism don't help. Hapless sloganeering plus lack of presence make for a dull disc; no matter how hard Hi-Tek works to animate the proceedings, Kweli's raps won't stick, and we're left with well-meaning ephemera that doesn't cohere as an album-length statement. Beguiling Motown flounce "Midnight Hour" and chime-y health-care rant "Strangers (Paranoid)" are, respectively, more of an Estelle spotlight and Bun B showcase special than anything else; they're the center of gravity, while Kweli barely registers.

arts@orlandoweekly.com

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Orlando Weekly. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Orlando Weekly, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at feedback@orlandoweekly.com.

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club for as little as $5 a month.

More by Raymond Cummings

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Read the Digital Print Issue

May 12, 2021

View more issues

Calendar

© 2021 Orlando Weekly

Website powered by Foundation