The Great Collaborator
Talib Kweli gets on the Idle Warship
by Sara Brickner
One of Talib Kweli’s greatest assets — aside from his eloquent rhymes and lightning delivery — is the constant introduction of new producers and emcees to a long and distinguished roster of Kweli collaborators. At heart, Kweli’s a poet, but he surrounds himself with talented producers, bands and emcees who experiment with genre and style. And Kweli chooses his collaborators carefully even though he hasn’t worked with anyone else under a group umbrella since he was one half of Black Star.
But that’s about to change; Kweli’s currently a part of a new group called Idle Warship with Philly emcee Res, who appears on most of his previous solo albums, and Toronto emcee Graph Nobel. The group formed as a side project to make fun party jams, but now they’re making a record, and Kweli, who’s known for (and sometimes pigeonholed because of) his serious subject matter, couldn’t stay frivolous for an entire album if he tried. Yes, “Screamin’” is an infectious electronic club jam that contains a cameo from MC Chris (who basically says, in typical hyperspeed delivery, that he’d rather stay home smoking ganj than go out). And “Pull It Out,” which features reggae artist Dapa Flex, is a sexy hook-up banger. Conversely, “Industry Diary” features a serious Res contemplating giving up trying to be a musician. And “Fall Back,” which features a distinct rock vibe courtesy of a guest from the indie realm, Chester French, loosely references Hillary Clinton’s campaign, though the video for the song makes the connection more boldly than the lyrics to the song itself.
But that’s not all Kweli’s been up to; he also helped Corey Smyth turn his management company into a label, Blacksmith Records, that hosts himself, Jean Grae, Anjulie and three-person crew Strong Arm Steady. He hasn’t put out another album since Eardrum but is touring to support a live DVD, Live at the Shrine, recorded at The Shrine in Los Angeles. It’s sort of unusual to tour in support of a live DVD, but what’s weirder is the choice to pair Kweli with David Banner, a rapper who embodies hip hop’s mainstream incarnation (and everything Kweli regularly rails against in his rhymes) down to the most minute detail. In contrast to Kweli’s distinguished roster of collaborators, Banner’s fifth and latest ego-stroker, The Greatest Story Ever Told, features guests like Akon, Lil Wayne and Snoop Dogg. And as you’d expect, the album’s rife with topical, simplistic lyrics about ladies, cars and, you know, stuff. It’s basically the equivalent of Common touring with 50 Cent. Plus, while most of Kweli’s songs will translate well to live performance by the Rhythm Roots All Stars, a 10 person band who back the artists on this tour, David Banner’s stuff may prove more challenging. Criticism aside, however, you can’t deny that Banner’s a brilliant businessman. Because cars and chicks sell, but intelligent, cutting societal critique? Not so much. Even if it is set to some of hip hop’s bangin’-est beats.
Talib Kweli, David Banner, Little Brother, Rhythm Roots All Stars. 8 pm, Tuesday, Oct. 4. McDonald Theatre. $25 adv., $30 door.