Talib Kweli – “Get By”

One of the more underrated emcees in the game, Brooklyn native Talib (Arabic for ‘seeker’) Kweli rocked the scene hard in 1998 as part of the duo known as Black Star, with fellow Brooklyn rapper Mos Def. The collaboration followed in the spirit of the early ’90s NY-based collective known as the Native Tongues, a group of Afrocentric, youthfully unique, and intelligent hip-hoppers, which included artists such as A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and Queen Latifah (which, all of whom, plus other members, will get their time on this blog sooner or later since I’m a huge fan of the Tongues). Black Star was dedicated to bringing hip-hop back on track in the wake of the murders of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G.

With one album, Black Star became one of the biggest rap groups of the late ’90s, known for their laid back style, socially conscious lyrics, and an appreciation for hip-hop culture which contrasted starkly against the bling-oriented rap of the day. Mos and Talib became overnight bonafide stars.

Well, Mos became a bonafide star. Talib? Well, not so much.

While Mos Def has gained some notable mainstream success, appearing in TV shows and movies, seeing his records do impressive numbers on the Billboard charts, and brokering cred with hipsters, it’s been a bit more of a tough go for Talib, who has steadily been plugging away at making good, notable music. It’s a damn shame, actually, since I feel that Talib is a better rapper than Mos. While Mos is a bit shy and quiet in interviews, Talib is confident and outspoken. On the mic, Mos is a bit fantastical and wander-y, but Talib is focused and on point. They are both solid artists, don’t get me wrong, but Talib rocks it just a bit better.

Anyway, for his first solo effort (well, second if you count 2000’s Reflection Eternal, but that would be doing Hi-Tek a disservice), 2002’s Quality, Talib committed himself to making some real slamming tracks that commanded your attention and respect. Accompanied by a young hotshot producer with rap aspirations coming out of Chi-Town named Kanye West, Talib nailed that goal supremely with the album’s premier single, “Get By.” This track is hot. freaking. FIRE. The production is energetic and vibrant, giving you feelings of motion and strength, especially with the chorus of voices, those melodic piano licks, rhythmic claps, and soulful wails. It’s a signature Kanye sound (especially with those sped up soul samples), and he did a fantastic job here.

Talib is no slouch either, delivering punchy and poignant rhymes about the wayward tendencies of the Black community. Talib always had a penchant for creating evocative, very visual lyrics, and he brings the house down right here with rhymes that get you moving, and thinking as well. It’s a stupendous listen.

Originally posted on my old blog, Emaciated Wildebeest, on September 13, 2010.