March 5, 2003
fi t d oS
By Joseph Litman
Daily Arts Writer
Call it skill, call it game, call it whatever, but be
sure to call Talib Kweli's talent something that
denotes its exceptional abundance. A gifted word-
smith who seems to never waste a bar, the New York
MC is one of rap music's finest and most intellectu-
ally provocative rhymers, and his lyrical prowess
has earned him a devoted following and placed him
among hip-hop's "socially conscious" luminaries.
Sharing that distinction with Kweli are a handful
of elite acts, like Common, and both men will be
featured attractions tomorrow night at Detroit's
State Theater. Gang Starr will also be performing at
a show certain to please real hip-hop fans. Kweli,
who spoke to The Michigan Daily last week, is
clearly excited about the performance.
"(The show) is just some real hip-hop shit. It's a
pretty long show, so people should be prepared for
that. However, it's not long and boring; it's long and
good," he said. "I try to throw a party with my show."
The party atmosphere created results from Talib's
remarkable ability to engage fans with his music.
"I try not to make music for the audience; I try to
make music for myself. The only way that you can
be true to yourself as an artist is if you make music
for yourself and then let the audience relate to that.
If you make music for specific audiences, they're
usually sophisticated enough to see through that."
Measuring the sophistication of the hip-hop audi-
ence is a difficult task. As hip-hop has permeated
society, the culture's growth has raised a plethora of
issues that require complicated responses. One such
topic is the direction in which the music is headed.
"I see hip-hop going wherever the people are,
whatever the people demand," Kweli said. "Right
now, whatever Nelly is putting out is
something that the people are
demanding. He came out with a song TALI
that was a hit and it just became a ALB
phenomenon. And since (he and Uni- COMM
versal Records) have been ableto GANG
capitalize on the phenomenon. He At the Sta
touched a nerve and hip-hop is going
to be wherever the people are."
Those people are, at times, nott
with Kweli, who has not enjoyed the Clear Channel
same commercial success as a Nelly.
Compounding that problem, even loyal fans have at
times been disappointed with Kweli, like this sum-
mer when they disapproved of a new song, "Gun
Music," before fully understanding its meaning.
"There are people in the so-called 'conscious
music' that are just as close-minded as people who
listen to 'commercial music,"' said Kweli. "In the
summer it was a little tough because people auto-
matically assume that I'm not allowed to use the
word 'gun,' that I'm so positive that I can't even say
something that might have a negative connotation."
,..:., ..:r . a xi. ... , ..:.. . :..
Courtesy of OkayPlayer
Practice? We're sittin' here talkin' about practice?i
. CODY CHESNUTT
T THE HEADPHONE MASTERPIECE
READY SET Go! RECORDS
By Joseph Litman
Daily Arts Writer
"Seinfeld" was not particularly
popular when it debuted. No one
owned J5's Jurassic 5 before they
heard Quality Control. And the
Toronto Raptors let Tracy McGrady
leave but held onto Vince Carter.
Rarely are people cognizant that
they are witnessing greatness in its
nascent stages, yet when we can lis-
ten to a record or watch a perform-
ance excited by our belief that we're
onto something that will become
exceptional, that feeling is almost as
great as its inspiration. Hopefully the
previously documented episodes of
myopia will prepare everyone for
Cody ChesnuTT's The Headphone
Masterpiece, then, because the record
should engender in listeners a won-
derful, enthusiastic optimism.
Normally, calling one's own work a
masterpiece would be presumptuous,
an exercise in self-aggrandizement.
However, ChesnuTT's self-conferred
title is apt because the 36-song, two-
disc record (a plurality of tracks are
roughly two minutes or less) displays a
sonic diversity and ingenuity seldom
heard. Drawing from a wide array of
sources, Masterpiece gives listeners
smooth jazz, energized rock, snarling
funk and tough hip-hop that all benefit
from and show off ChesnuTT's incred-
ible musical gifts. His ability to deftly
combine styles and sounds indicates a
musical mind that seems difficult to
harness for an album; ChesnuTT's
music oozes talent and ideas.
Those unimpressed by the album's
creative melodies and well-blended
rhythms may instead admire that Ches-
nuTT recorded this release entirely in
his bedroom and plays every instru-
ment save for saxophone.
That Masterpiece was cooked up in
ChesnuTT's bedroom does detract
from the album in some ways
because the record's primary defi-
ciency is its sound quality, which at
times is grainy. However, Master-
piece is literally its creator's demo
tape and perhaps that distinction can
at least explain, if not excuse, the
album's lacking production quality.
On no song is that tinny sound more
apparent than "The Seed," a song
which ChesnuTT performed with the
Roots on their record Phrenology. The
disparity in the sound quality between
the versions is stark.
As interesting as the melodies and
rhythms are Masterpiece's lyrics. Sim-
ply, ChesnuTT seems to be an idiosyn-
cratic blend of spirituality, testosterone
and intelligence. This intriguing per-
sonality is readily apparent on tracks
like "Boylife in America," in which
ChesnuTT says, "All I want is pussy /
Give me some religion," and "When I
Find Time," a song in which he speaks
to the rigors of daily routine, flippantly
remarking, "I don't have time for
apologies and puppies."
Brazenly listening to The Head-
phone Masterpiece will be counter-
productive for those interested in this
record, so they should be sure to find
time. In addition to the sound quality,
the record's disjointed flow may dis-
turb some people because there real-
ly isn't continuity throughout the
album. However, that aspect of the
record only reinforces ChesnuTT's
potential, serving as proof that his
musical interest and talent are vast
enough to be overwhelming.
Maybe it isn't so hard to recognize
RATING: * * * *
The rush to judgment that proved to be hasty
is symptomatic of a mass U.S. audience that
often lacks patience. Subjecting Kweli to such
unfortunate behavior has especially threatening
consequences, though, because anything that
might encourage the MC's silence - though
he'd likely be undeterred - would deprive hip-
hop of a much-needed candid and
Demonstrating how he's gar-
(WELl, nered his reputation for intelli-
N AND gence and thoughtfulness, Kweli
STARR discussed the meaning behind his
e Theater latest single, "Get By."
"I specifically choose to address
t 7:30 p.m. the black condition around the
0 world in my music, because there is
Entertainment not enough of that in the main-
stream, and it needs to be dealt
with because it is a serious issue. But when I say
'we' in that sense (of coping with life's stresses),
I am talking about all people. Getting by is a con-
stant struggle, something that everybody, regard-
less of race, deals with."
Kweli's unabashed opinions also cover ongoing
topics of conversation ranging from his responsi-
bility as a role model given his profession - "I
think that there is a responsibility, but I wouldn't
put that on everybody" - to Eminem's potential
role in the co-optation of hip-hop.
"Honestly, of course (Eminem is a vehicle for
co-optation), to a certain extent, but I don't think
anybody realizes that more than Eminem, and I
think it's kind of irrelevant to discuss that because
that's so far away from the real issues in our cul-
ture. Part of the reason that he sells millions of
records is obviously because he's white, and obvi-
ously because white kids who buy hip-hop music
relate to him, and that's why you see him on the
award shows and everything. He realizes that and
he wouldn't be where he is if he weren't one of the
best MCs to ever do it, and he also realizes that."
Speaking further about the issue's nuances,
Kweli continued, "You could make the argument
that Vanilla Ice was good for the culture because
he brought hip-hop to a whole bunch of people
who didn't give a fuck about it before. It's about
where someone's heart (rests), and you take every-
thing as it is. If Eminem can rhyme, that's all we
should be dealing with."
Through his Nkiru bookstore and community
center, Talib has also tried to reach more people
and develop a context in which they can under-
stand and enjoy hip-hop and black culture.
Some of that culture's finest music and its most
ardent supporter will be on display tomorrow
night. From the classic style of Gang Starr to the
boundary-pushing growth of Common, there will
be something for all hip-hop heads. As for Kweli?
Obviously, he speaks for himself.
0 0 0
V 5 4
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