Because I write about music a lot, I end up going to a ton of shows throughout the year. For the most part I enjoy it and try to have fun even if I don’t really know the music I’m hearing. Every once in a while, you see someone who is truly head and shoulders above everyone else. Last year it was Springsteen-this year it’s Talib Kweli. He’s been a shining example of what rap music should be since his collaboration with Mos Def, Black Star. Fifteen years later Kweli is lesser-known, but just as good or better than guys like Jay-Z or Nas. Last night he showed me that he can still bring the goods at live shows.
The whole concert was really impressive. I missed the first band because we had some issues with my press pass (fixed by Donna at Javotti-thanks!). I saw trumpets and heard some jazz/funk from outside. Sorry I missed it because I think they were a local Chicago band.
Next up was Santiago X The Natural, and they killed their set. The Natural is an attorney by day, but you can feel his love for the music in his voice. His flow is solid, and he had some really good lyrics that felt honest and heartfelt. That’s my kind of rapper. Santiago provided the singing, and he was hitting some impressive notes. The ladies definitely loved him, and I can totally see why-in his leather jacket and dark sunglasses he looks just like a Native American Julian Casablancas (who also happens to be an architect).
They played almost entirely new songs from their upcoming album, and the crowd loved it even without having anything familiar to relate to. Their very first song was rapped over a White Stripes track, which I really enjoyed. There was another one later that I think was a Beck track, but I could be wrong. These two currently have a song running on ESPN, and last year they played at a pep rally for Notre Dame-two strong pluses in my book.
The last act before Talib came out was Cory Mo. He just signed to Javotti, and his resume is pretty impressive already: he’s produced tracks for Bun B, Slim Thug, Geto Boys, and UGK. Now he’s coming out with his own music, and it sounds good so far. He played a really short set, three or four songs at most. He opened with an a capella rap to prove to us that he was for real-an it was fantastic. Probably the best thing he did on stage.
At this point it was only 11:15 and the main attraction wasn’t supposed to go on until 12. A few minutes later the band came out and asked if we were ready for some Talib Kweli (you can probably guess the answer). I was shocked-starting thirty minutes EARLY? This is a rap show, right? I assumed he wouldn’t hit the stage until at least 12:30. Happy to say I was wrong and by shortly after 11:30 we were off and running.
I haven’t been to a ton of hip-hop shows in my life, but seeing Talib Kweli is like taking a four-year masters course in rap artistry. Truly a legend, listening to him spit live is like watching Jackson Pollock splatter paint-there’s a frenetic urgency to it and the energy just swallows you up. Even if you don’t like his music there’s plenty to learn by watching him interact with the crowd.
He covered a lot of material from across his entire discography, including by my count four new songs from his soon-to-be-released Prisoner Of Consciousness. He also performed some mash ups of old school jams like Jigga’s “Money Cash Hoes,” some Beastie Boys and Kanye. The most awesome cover, of course, was “Lonely People,” Kweli’s take on The Beatles tune “Eleanor Rigby.” That one got the crowd singing along loudly for the first time and after that I think some of the reverence gave way to just having fun. The below video is from a show at Brooklyn Bowl last December-the reaction at Double Door was equally enthusiastic.
Kweli’s band is phenomenal. I didn’t catch all their names, but the bass player is from Boston, the drummer from Oakland, DJ from London, and Chicago’s own Chris Rob plays keys. How did I not know about Chris Rob?? He’s played every huge stage in the world, AND he’s gonna be on the new Lauryn Hill record! He’s a force behind his board, and his vocals are superb. After hyping up the crowd for some “hard” hip-hop, he laid down the Peanuts theme song by Vince Guaraldi Trio. It was funny at first, but as the band joined him it turned into an epic jam.
I’m really glad I got the opportunity to see Kweli in a space like Double Door. It’s a big enough venue to attract big names, but it’s still intimate enough that it feels like a small show. He seems to really appreciate his fans, and the way he raps and interacts, it’s like he’s talking directly to each person in the audience.
Prisoner Of Consciousness comes out May 7th, and Talib made it sound like he’ll be touring again this summer. If so, make it a point to get tickets early-I saw a lot of people get turned away because they didn’t buy in advance. If you’ve ever been a fan and stopped following him because you didn’t care for his last couple records, let me tell you that live, he hasn’t lost a step. Almost 20 years in, he’s still the best around.