Review: Talib Kweli Drops a History Lesson

The Brooklyn rapper goes full professor at the Independent.

At the Independent on Monday night, class was in session.

Rapper Talib Kweli – one of the game’s most accomplished and respected artists – was teaching the crowd about reggae. First, he had DJ Spintelect play “Bam Bam” by Sister Nancy, before seguing into some Bob Marley.

“Do you know why not everyone knows the words to this song?” Kweli asked a member of the audience by the stage who had just revealed the Bob Marley tattoo on his arm. “No judgment, but it’s because they’re too young or too dumb. We can’t expect a baby to know everything.”

The comment was made in good fun, but reflected what seemed to be Kweli’s mission for the evening: give the younger members of the crowd some fundamentals on the legacy of music. When he first took the stage, he observed how much the Independent had changed over the years.

“I’ve been coming here for a long time,” he said. “The floor used to not have any carpet. It was covered in beer and vomit and bubble gum. That was back when it was called the Justice League.”

Later, Kweli asked people to applaud to indicate what decade they were born in. Like the rapper himself, a number of folks born in the 1970s were in the house, as well as a healthy showing from those born in the 1980s. However, it was the kids born in the 1990s that seemed to draw his focus.

It’s an interesting dynamic that many artists of Kweli’s age are starting to experience: at 42 years old, his audience has gone from being largely people who have seen him dozens of times over several decades to being a younger crowd that is quite possibly seeing him for the first time. The rapper didn’t seem to mind, but also was all about making the most of his time at the pulpit.

He referenced the infamous interview Quincy Jones recently gave to Vulture.

“The most important thing he said was that when you play for money, God walks out of the room. The second most important thing he said was that Ringo couldn’t play the drums for shit.”

Kweli followed this stating that he was, in fact, down with The Beatles, who he respects for having “bars on bars on bars.” To illustrate his point, he had DJ Spintelect drop “Eleanor Rigby,” which segued into his track, “Lonely People.” The evening was mostly filled with cuts from across his 16-album discography, as well as verses from the numerous collaborations he’s been a part of — mostly notable as one-half of Black Star with Yasiin Bey (fka Mos Def).

Among the highlights were “Never Been in Love,” “Definition” from Black Star, and a spirited rendition of “Get By.” However, nothing topped the moment when Kweli paid tribute to the Bay by bringing out Tajai Massey from Hieroglyphics for some spit-fire verbal theatrics. The crowd seemed to appreciate the rare treat they were seeing—a bit of Bay Area hip hop history being created before their very eyes.

The final lesson from Kweli came during his encore, when he invited his son, Amani Fela Greene, to come up and represent.

Evidently suffering from the aftermath of what his father termed “a cruel blunt,” Greene’s voice got caught midway through his verse. DJ Spintelect cut the beat, and while Greene chugged some water, Kweli laid down the law.

“Now you’ve got to finish it acapella,” he said. “Don’t give him a beat. He has to finish it acapella now. That’s how it goes.”

Greene took a little convincing but finally made good, showcasing his flow and making a case as the heir apparent to his father’s legacy. The teacher, satisfied his students had learned all they could, finally dismissed his class.

Long reign Professor Kweli.


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