From Rakim and Eric B. to DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, collaborations have been a long-standing tradition in hip-hop. Sometimes when two artists come together, things just click.
That’s exactly what happened when Talib Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek first met in Cincinnati, Tek’s hometown, in the late 90’s. The two formed the group Reflection Eternal and signed to the upstart underground hip-hop label Rawkus Records, where they started to collaborate on tracks.
But before they put out an album of their own, Kweli teamed up with fellow Brooklyn MC Mos Def to release the album, “Mos Def and Kweli are Black Star”, which received great critical acclaim.
Hi-Tek produced some of the best tracks on the album including "Definition" and "Respiration" and the success of Black Star put the three at the forefront of the underground hip hop scene and paved the way for Reflection Eternal’s debut album, “Train of Thought”.
At 70 minutes and 20 tracks, “Train of Thought” is longer than most hip-hop albums and that’s just one of the reasons why it stands apart from the flock.
Released in October 2000, the album was produced primarily by Hi-Tek himself and features Kweli intelligently rapping about some interesting and diverse topics including love, the state of hip-hop, modern American culture and the revolutionary mentality.
Talib Kweli has always been on point with his social criticisms, and all through “Train of Thought” he really shows it. On the tracks "Ghetto Afterlife", "Africa Dream" and "Soul Rebels" in particular, Kweli conveys his feelings on society and culture in an extremely articulate and intelligent way.
The entire album is filled with some memorable tracks, but “Love Language”, “Good Morning”, "Love Speakeasy", "On My Way" and “Big Del From da Natti" stand out above the rest.
"Love Language" is one of the most unique tracks on the album. The theme throughout the track is perfectly conveyed by the line “The language of love can never be translated”. Using symbolism and metaphor Kweli describes one of the world’s most universally debated topics: love.
Kweli describes the feeling in such a detailed, illustrative way as he raps: “Love is blind, you just see bright light/You up in the club feelin' the night life, lookin' for the right type/Blood rushing to your heart making it beat/When she swept you off your feet and made it complete/You know the plan you had to conquer the world/Thinking you Scarface, looking for that perfect girl.”
My favorite aspect of the track is how Kweli has the chorus drop in French. Throughout the track he mentions how love is a universal language, and by using a different language Kweli shows that love is exclusive to no one.
“Move Somethin” is the second track on the album and may be the most energetic of the bunch. Kweli is extremely skilled at rapping in a calm, serious demeanor, but I honestly think he is at his best when he is quick and ferocious. He brings it hard and with a huge dose of energy over a beat that is just fantastic.
Kweli is clever and you can almost hear the fire he has within himself as he raps: “Takin you high like sky divers/When we spark with live wires/Original, cavemen quest for my fire/Express my desire to drop this new shit/These record executives keep tellin me y'all stupid/Now if they right, Shut The Fuck Up!/Revolutionaries throw your guns up.”
"Good Mourning" is one of the best tracks and is my favorite one on the album. Kweli describes the Brooklyn neighborhood where he came from in vivid detail and also links hip-hop’s obsession with death by looking at it through a lens of life.
The beat is simple yet haunting, and on the chorus Kweli perfectly describes what the track really means: “Good mourning, good afternoon, good night/What have you done with your life?/Everybody time comes to be embraced by the light/You only scared to die when you ain't livin right, man/I'm puttin up a hellafied fight.”
On the last verse Kweli mentions the names of some fallen artists, including Big L, and Curtis Mayfield, which shows Kweli is well versed in his music history.
Kweli is a rare MC, as his lyrics show off a knowledge that easily transcends his age. Coupled with Tek's loping keyboard wails, soulful claps, and shimmering piano loops, Kweli shows off that he is one of the most talented and skilled rappers in the game.
It’s fitting that Reflection Eternal is dropping a new album, because on “Train of Thought” it’s abundantly clear that these two have something to say about hip-hop, and we should all listen. Their debut is one of the most poignant, interesting and intelligent hip-hop album ever released, and is definitely a classic.