By: Gus Navarro
For me there are two factors above all else that determine the talent of an MC. Their abilities in the studio are clearly important, but also their capacity to rock a live show. I have seen groups such as the Cool Kids–that while I love their music, didn’t have a great live show. I still enjoy the Cool Kids and listen to their music often, but would think twice about paying to see them again. To a certain extent, a Hip hop show is expected to be loud and you’re supposed to feel the thump of the bass in your chest. However, with the Cool Kids it was impossible to hear their lyrics, and difficult to figure out which song was being played. Recently, I saw Talib Kweli at the Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids, Michigan. To put it simply, the night was a bit wild.
Forty-five minutes after the second opening act, a female MC by the name of Mama Sol that is worth checking out, Kweli still hadn’t come on stage. Rumors started flying around that he was held up and would not be coming to perform at all. After a solid hour, there was still no sign of him. By this time, people were becoming agitated and some considered leaving. Then out of nowhere, his Dj showed up, and about five minutes later Kweli was on stage and the show began. Sporting sunglasses, a blue hoody and green hat with the word “ninjas” across the front, he proceeded to “rock the mic.” He performed new music from his upcoming album Prisoner of Conscious, and the classic material including “Get By,” “Move Somethin,” “Definition,” “Re: Definition” and “In This World.”
About halfway through the set he apologized to the crowd for being late and explained what had held him up. According to Kweli, he had three different flights cancelled out of New York due to the east coast blizzard. Because of this, he took a taxi down to Philadelphia, flew to Detroit, and then was driven from Detroit to Grand Rapids. I can only imagine how exhausted I would have been after such a travel fiasco. Despite this, Kweli came straight from the road to the stage and had the crowd rocking with him within his first song. He left the stage with huge cheers from the crowd that quickly became a chant for him to return. After about five minutes he came back and did about six more songs that included his verse from the Kanye West classic “Get Em High” and finished the encore with “I try” from his 2004 album The Beautiful Struggle. With that, the concert ended and my friends and I headed home, later than anticipated, but in awe of what we had just seen.
I realized on the way home that I had just witnessed Hip hop in its purest form. Talib Kweli was able to find energy to perform after a long day of travel because sharing stories with an audience is his craft. Beyond that, rapping is his vocation. He has reached the point in his career where his lyrics are not simply “memorized,” rather his words and lyrics are a part of who he is. Talib Kweli was able to share his artwork with crowds across the country because he understands that an important part Hip hop is engaging a crowd while spreading the messages of revolution, decolonization, love and progress. This is not a mainstream message, and will not be heard on the radio, which is what makes Kweli revolutionary in his own right.