Artist: Reflection Eternal
Album: Talib Kweli & DJ Hi-Tek – Train Of Thought
Rating: 7.5 / 10
Reviewer: DJ MF
Talib Kweli. DJ Hi-Tek. Names held in the highest reverence by some hip hop heads. And with good reason.
Kweli and Hi-Tek have been blowing it up for a hot minute now, what with Kweli having teamed up with Mos Def for the hot “Black Star” compilation, and assorted other solo ventures, and Hi-Tek having built a reputation as a beatmaker who can make dope beats, but DIFFERENTLY.
As a group, these two were called Reflection Eternal. For some reason, that has been discarded. No difference I guess. This LP, “Train Of Thought” was one of the most anticipated LP’s of last year…was it worth the hype?
Judge the album solely by the banger ‘Move Something’, and you’d wholeheartedly scream YES. For an underground duo, this sure doesn’t sound underground. A screaming horn section, absolutely booming drums, and a gorgeous boinging bassline, all topped off by Talib Kweli trying to act like a thug. WHAT? Oh yeah, Kweli. Let me let you in on a little secret – I think Kweli sounds like a scared 10 year old girl when he raps. Meaning I don’t think he’s a good MC. However, in truth, he does a good job here. Just think for a moment though what this track would have been with say, Mos Def on it instead.
The tempo slows down to a more manageable speed on the next track ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’, and truth be told, this is more the speed to expect for the rest of the LP. A funky little bassline but little else here, and Kweli blathers on, and MF ain’t too impressed. Skipperoo.
Two tracks that seem strangely similar to me are up next, with one of the released singles, ‘The Blast’, and ‘This Means You’. Heavy basslines are thrown on both, especially ‘The Blast’, which is as soulful as any hip hop track put out last year with it’s feminine vocal accents thrown on the chorus, and Kweli declaring that he’s “writing to show you what he’s fighting for”.
The genius of Hi-Tek production is then fully unveiled on ‘Too Late’ which features a brilliant vocal sample stretched to sound like a flute, and laced over the beat. When the chorus chimes in, a real flute is then thrown in for a little ditty. Just a great job by Hi-Tek at providing an amazing mood for Kweli to rap over on this song. Amazingly Kweli more than ups the ante here, with a great couple of verses describing how hip hop is falling to commercialism as well.
“Nowadays rap artists coming half-hearted
Commercial like pop, or underground like black markets
Where were you the day hip-hop died?
Is it too early to mourn? Is it too late to ride?”
The mournful theme is continued on the beautiful ‘Memories Live’, where Hi-Tek flexes his production muscles once again. A great vocal sample of “bringing back sweet memories” is placed throughout the beat, and the bassline fits the theme perfectly. This is also one of the tracks that emphasizes the issue I have with Kweli- what he’s saying is dope (how he uses memories to go over good times), but I can’t stand HOW he says it.
“Like thoughts out the back of my mind
Going back in some time
Like when you used to cut and had to go to the back of the line
Look back and you find
Tracks that make you relax and recline
Now cats rap about packing a nine
When they lacking divine
Running out of topics of conversation
Well I drop it in the pocket because rocking’s my occupation
I do it remarkably, spark up a leaf
And possibly you could follow me
Tap into your chi
Utilize your memory
To help you see clearly, then get back to me”
The production hits keep on coming with the next track, ‘Africa Dream’. Unfortunately, the awesome tribal beat laced with the classic horn sample used at the start is not carried over into the song proper. A pity. This track also continues the conscious message of Kweli as he thanks his original African descendants for the building blocks they laid for black people today.
‘Down For The Count’ brings back the party vibe of ‘Move Something’, and features the vocal stylings of Xzibit and Rah Digga. Unfortunately for Kweli, he’s just overpowered by his guests on this track. Even Rah Digga sounds more masculine then he does. The beat continues the strong tradition of the earlier tracks as well, having an almost latin vibe to it. Dope.
The next three tracks however let up a bit, not living up to the quality found earlier. Call it the mid-life belly sag of the album if you will. ‘Name of the Game’, ‘Ghetto Afterlife’, and ‘On My Way’ all suffer length issues, and problems of boring beats. And let’s face it- without the beats, Kweli becomes a really irritating MC to listen to.
The next two tracks, ‘Love Language’and ‘Love Speakeasy’ are complimentary tracks. ‘Language’ is a proper hip hop track, while ‘Speakeasy’ is an enhanced instrumental. The beat is a laidback joint featuring a light guitar sample, and a gorgeous horn loop. Just gorgeous. Hi-Tek needs to give Jay Dee lessons on how to make a jazzy track, because this is the way duke. Check the French chorus here as well, and Kweli preaching the love game, and the differences between men and women- EMOTIONALLY… not sexually.
De La Soul pops in for ‘Soul Rebels’, and I’m a touch underwhelmed. The beat sounds like something I’ve heard before, and it’s a little too repetitive. All the MC’s do ok here, but nothing too impressive, and for some reason, the chorus bugs the HELL out of me.
Hi-Tek resumes making good beats on ‘Eternalists’ where he inventively uses a chime to accentuate the bass changes. The effect is a sunny, almost bouncy beat which is bound to make you smile. Kweli actually sounds good over this, minus the cr*ppy chorus, as he throws out some decent battle verses.
Of the remaining tracks on the LP, there are two tracks that every hip hop head NEEDS to hear. The first being ‘Good Mourning’. As you’d expect from the title, it’s a song of mourning for all the people that have been lost and died. I can’t express how sad this song made me feel the first time I heard it…and it’s solely because of the beat. Needs to be heard to be believed. Kweli does an outstanding job here as well, as he runs down a tale of mourning in the ghetto. Just amazing.
“In case you die in your sleep you ask the Lord for a blessin
Sometimes they sneak up so quiet that the silence is deafenin
You’ll never know who the assassin is until it’s your time to go
Your life is flashin, askin for forgiveness but you move too slow
Now the people that you love bear the pain that you once harbored
You was livin for yourself so you could never be a martyr
Life is hard, death is harder; you somebody baby father
Someone’s lover, son of your mother, somebody brother
Somebody nigga, now your spirit in the air like a whisper
Hearin your name mentioned when we pourin out some liquor
The days go by quicker and the nights don’t seem to differ
It’s gettin cold, so I shivered and asked my soul to be delivered”
The next track that needs to be heard is ‘For Women’ which comes on after the outro. A haunting string section over a sad beat laced with piano keys is the template for Kweli to just blow me away with a couple of great stories about women. In the first, he tells of an old woman who has seen much in her life, ranging from slavery to the current day, but has remained strong through it all. The second story concerns a young girl who was conceived via a rape, and since that time had led a tortured life. The third story involves a girl who had lost her parents to AIDS and crack at early ages, which had left her on the streets, where she was now a prostitute. The fourth and final story is one of a slave woman who no matter what, believed that she would eventually would be free, so that she would be able to provide a proper life for her children.
All of these stories are told in such a way that you HAVE to listen closely as Kweli tells them… they’re just that good. Just an amazing end to the album.
So was this album worth the hype? Yes and no. I can’t get over how bad Kweli sounds most of the time. He oftentimes can’t stay on beat properly, and his voice just grates on me. However, when he’s on, he’s REALLY on, as evidenced by ‘For Women’. As for Hi-Tek? Save for a few songs, he does his job incredibly on this LP, providing a nice variety of beats, and changing up his style, while still maintaining a signature pattern.
Overall, an above average album, with a few classic tracks, that I feel could have been much more with a different MC, or an added MC to the mix (think Mos Def, and you’d have it.)