Talib Kweli at The Sugar Club, Dublin, 15th November 2015

A product of experimental theatre and with a strong involvement in politics, Talib Kweli (Talib meaning student in Arabic) was never going to be merely about the tunes. Like the rest of us, Kweli too is trying to come to terms with the race relations conflicts and abuses of power that the world is constantly embroiled in. The 40 year old, however, is fully aware of his vocation to do something about it. He won’t always get it right. But he’s committed himself to more selfless acts than many of us will in a lifetime. And here, he succeeds in using his voice as a platform to the best of his ability, combining inquisition with empathy, showmanship and above all the articulation and reasoning to make you sit up and want to do more yourself. Not to mention the slick visuals whirling about behind him.

Bellowing out the four principles of the Zulu Nation; “Peace, Love, Unity and Having Fun”, it was with this in mind that Kweli delivered a thought-provoking but bopping set. The rapport was incredibly egalitarian, Kweli uniting the crowd in song, dance and prayer. Remembrance not just for our fallen heroes of conflict but for those that came before; Dilla, Marley et al. Which brings us to his eclecticism and pure engagement with and appreciation of hip-hop; from reggae to the afrocentric to trap. For the most part, rhythmically, this was as good as they come, Kweli’s cadence and his DJs reactivity astounding.

On Ghetto Show, he raps “If lyrics sold, truth be told/I’d probably be just as rich and famous as Jay Z”. Indeed, Kweli was always the poet. But that’s not to say he never had an ear for a beat, the rapper namechecking a host of producers including Just Blaze, Kanye West and Hi Tek. Which highlights the pure devotion and love he has for the genre and his contemporaries as well as the high regard that Kweli is held to in the rap game.

While there were enough singalong moments in his armoury, particularly Get By and Definition, the intermittent prophecies and verses could at times make the set seem distorted. And the lack of attention to curation could sometimes make it lack confluence. Then again with a discography as lengthy and accomplished as it is and with new album, ‘Indie 500’ only coming out that week, it was always going to be difficult. Drawing from the dichotomy between positive hip-hop and ugly hip-hop, the sheer vastness of Kweli’s oeuvre can surely be no bad thing. The Brooklynite is bound to wow audiences with his intelligent socially-conscious raps for many years to come.

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