The second installment of my hip-hop and pop culture review column in NOW, “A Man and his Mixtape.”
I’ve never quite understood why veteran solo artists that team up in pairs insist on adopting a new, more abstract moniker, as Talib Kweli and Hi Tek do as Reflection Eternal, but in this case it is hard to argue with the results. In anticipation of their upcoming 2010 album Revolutions Per Minute, Reflection Eternal has put out a fresh mixtape (mixed by Statik Selektah) called The Re:Union to “whet your appetite.” The formual is simple: Talib is fresh with his lyrics as always (not a small feat over his long career), and Hi Tek brings a variety of Mo Town based beats. After leaving it on repeat the last few days, I can say that it has left me both pleasantly satisfied and hungry for more.
This might just be a quirk of mine, but I have a problem with rappers who excessively use similes — that is, comparisons using “like” or “as.” I never forgave Common for almost ruining Kanye West’s College Dropout masterpiece “Get ‘Em High” with the line “real rappers is hard to find…like a remote.” So when Talib Kweli blasts through a verse filled with a dozen such comparisons, it grates on me a little. But just a little, because Kweli’s flow is usually quick and dynamic enough to bury the ‘like’s amid the onrush of clever wordplay. Talib, like many great rappers, is an extremely intelligent and well read individual, but unlike some rappers he isn’t afraid to show it. He treats his listeners with allusions to classic literature, pop culture, history, politics, and scripture, and more than anything it’s the broadness of the world that Talib references that make most of these tracks so fun.
Without a doubt the best new joint on this The Re:Union is “Just Begun,” which gives a verse each to Talib, Jay Electronica, J. Cole, and Mos Def (who also makes a great showing on several tracks later on the album). Jay Electronica and J. Cole are newcomers to the game, and rising stars. J. Cole’s mixtape The Warm Up was one of the best hip-hop albums of 2009, and he brings that same charisma to this track. Jay Electronica has been getting buzz about about a music video he filmed in (shout out!) India and Nepal, and his verse, a socially and spiritually conscious reflection on his move from New Orleans to New York, drops a few references to Farah Khan. Talib and Mos are obviously veteran artists, and putting them on the song with the two newcomers makes everyone sound good (though Hi Tek’s quality production doesn’t hurt either).
Most of the tracks on here are all in the classic mixtape style: no hooks or choruses, long relaxed intros and outros to each song commenting on the production or encouraging you to buy the upcoming studio album, most songs short and sweet. Along with Jay Electronica and J. Cole on “Just Begun,” the mixtape features a variety of less known artists that are worth looking up, such as Philadelphia’s prize female MC, Bahamadia. Everyone involved is obviously having a blast recording this mixtape, as evidenced by the song “Internet Connection,” which borders on the silly. The Re:Union is the kind of album that you can put on when you just want to hear some new stuff to keep your head bobbing for an hour without having to worry about whether the album is going to win Grammies or change the world. It’s a good feeling.
If you have the bandwidth this week, check out Reflection Eternal’s new mixtape, The Re:Union at http://nahright.com/news/2009/12/31/reflection-eternal-statik-selektah-the-reunion-mixtape/, free to download.