Bullet train


Everything about Talib Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek is understated.


Kweli, a rather homely guy, fronts an innocent guise through a street getup. And the voice? Stricken soft. He looks like the kid at the back of the class who stayed after school to help teacher wash blackboards. Likewise, Hi-Tek seems small, even in pictures. He’s the quiet cat who only speaks once on the duo’s debut album, Reflection Eternal — Train of Thought.

But that’s where the softness ends. Kweli, the intellectual half of Black Star and defiant shadow to partner Mos Def, has emerged to remind the world that it was he and Hi-Tek who actually gave Mos one of his first guest appearances. Reflection Eternal’s album is a study in understated brilliance. It’s a humble project that combines Kweli’s high-pitched delivery and Hi-Tek’s rugged beats to produce a mellow and insightful stream of consciousness. After comedian Dave Chapelle opens the album with a hilarious impersonation of former South African President Nelson Mandela, Kweli invites you to "Pick any mental/Instru-, funda-, conti-" on "Move Somethin’." From there, he rocks whatever Hi-Tek gives him.

Kweli’s intellect and politics are tempered by wisdom uncharacteristic of most MCs today. In his lyrics, he dreams about Africa, not Alizé ("Africa Dream"), love as opposed to lust ("Love Speakeasy"), and making you follow his vibe, instead of giving you what you think you want ("Get Up Now" with Mos Def). His company includes De La Soul, Kool G. Rap, Rah Digga and Xzibit, who all weave their distinct personalities into the fabric of the project without clashing with Kweli and Hi-Tek’s color scheme.

On the low, Train has been a highly anticipated album. It does not disappoint. Lyrically, it requires a studious ear. Sonically, it should be played through a good set of speakers. Mount them, sit back and reflect.

Khary Kimani Turner writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.