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Still waiting for his rocket to come: Jason Mraz played an uninspiring set

Kenyatta Storin | Monday, August 30, 2004

Although Talib Kweli is not as well known as mainstream rappers like 50 Cent or Ludacris, he has quickly established himself as one of the most respected artists in underground rap. Hailing from Brooklyn, N.Y., Kweli started his career in the late 90s as a part of Black Star, a rap group with fellow rapper Mos Def and DJ Hi-Tek. In 1998, the group came out with their self-titled debut, Black Star, which was regarded by many as an instant classic. What distinguished this album from others was its emphasis on knowledge and awareness, following the teachings of black civil rights activist Marcus Garvey. For many, this positive theme was a breath of fresh air to the negativity and violence interlaced in many mainstream rap records. Since Black Star was so successful, the three parted ways to pursue solo careers. While Mos Def decided to focus more on his acting career, Kweli continued awing critics with his expert lyricism on Reflection Eternal in 2000 and Quality in 2002.On Friday night, Kweli opened for The Show at the Joyce Center and did not disappoint. However, it quickly became apparent that the audience was not particularly familiar with Kweli’s music. For instance, early on Kweli asked if there were any Black Star fans in the crowd and got a rather muted response. But he took it lightly and jokingly pointed at one Black Star fan in the front and said he had one at least. On several occasions, Kweli tried to get the crowd to sing along, but he was often left hanging due to the crowd’s unfamiliarity with his lyrics.Despite these setbacks, Kweli did a good job of keeping the crowd engaged in a variety of ways. Throughout The Show he told fans to put their hands in the air, clap or yell. At one point he even told fans in the seats to do the wave, and in another instance he asked the crowd to hold up lighters and cell phones for a slower number. He also altered his lyrics to include Notre Dame, and even referenced Rudy in one line. But perhaps the defining moment for Kweli was when he asked a couple students to come on stage to dance in the middle of the show. When security refused, Kweli immediately stopped the music and said the show would not go on unless the students could come on stage, causing the crowd to cheer. Security did not budge, so Kweli stuck by his words and left. After about five minutes, and some sparse “Kweli!” chants, to the crowd’s delight security finally gave in and let the students on stage, and Kweli came back to continue the show.Kweli’s set included songs from all across his music catalogue, but seemed to focus primarily on tracks from his last album, Quality. Kweli appeared to improvise a lot according to the crowd’s reaction, sometimes changing songs before the last one was finished. This worked well, as he was able to do this seamlessly without disrupting the flow of the show. Some of the notable tracks he performed were “Get By” and “Good to You” from Quality and “Definition” from Black Star. He also performed “I Try,” a new Kanye West produced track with Mary J. Blige from his upcoming album, Beautiful Struggle.Although Kweli performed well, it was often very difficult to understand him because of the Joyce Center’s sub-par acoustics and loud, ear-shattering bass. Kweli is an extremely talented lyricist who relies a lot on his words and message to carry his songs, rather than catchy choruses or funny one-liners, so not being able to understand him was rather unfortunate. Even when he tried to get the crowd to sing the words “I Try,” he got a small response because most of the crowd could not understand the words.In spite of this, the audience appeared to enjoy Kweli’s performance. Even though most people did not know his music well, many approvingly nodded their heads to the beat and waved their hands in the air whenever Kweli told them to. Before his encore, some fans even chanted “Kweli!” to get him to come back on stage. Overall, despite the poor sound and unknowledgeable audience, Kweli provided a solid show and demonstrated that he’ll be an integral part of the music scene for years to come. He is even planning on making another Black Star album with Mos Def, which will be eagerly anticipated by many hip-hop fans. Kweli is a gifted rapper, and those that attended The Show were lucky to have seen him. After all, as Jay-Z said about The Black Album, “If skills sold, truth be told, I’d probably be lyrically, Talib Kweli.” Now that is respect.