Reflection Eternal, the groundbreaking duo of rapper Talib Kweli and producer Hi-Tek, have come together for their second full-length sonic offering, Revolutions Per Minute. More than a decade after their first collaborations, Kweli and Hi-Tek are each among the most respected in their respective crafts. Kweli is a torchbearer for those craving commercially viable music that matters, while Hi-Tek has been able to deliver impeccable work that ranges from bombastic beats for the most progressive backpack rappers to bone-crushing soundbeds for the gruffest gangster rappers.
The Brooklyn-based rapper earned his stripes as one of the most lyrically-gifted, socially aware and politically insightful rappers to emerge in the last 20 years. His travels around the globe as one of rap’s most in-demand performers combined with his conversations with political activists and his genre-straddling work with Idle Warship and others caused Kweli to realize that he was limited in a sense, a prisoner of sorts of his own success as one of the world’s best rappers with something significant to say.
“My music has been associated with those types of causes, with positivity, spirituality, intelligence and being thought-provoking and such,” he says. “I think sometimes people get caught up in that part of me as an artist and don’t necessarily understand the musicality or fully appreciate the music and the entertainment value behind what I do. I tried to stretch my wings a little bit and bring something that was less beholden to the world of hip-hop and more existing in the world in general.”
If skills sold, Talib Kweli would have been one of the most commercially successful rappers of his time. As it was, however, the earnest MC became one of the most critically successful rappers of his time, which dawned in the late '90s when he rapped alongside Mos Def and DJ Hi-Tek as part of the group Black Star. This trio of up-and-comers and their widely acclaimed self-titled 1998 album debut, Black Star, helped make Rawkus Records one of the premier underground rap outposts of the late '90s. Kweli and Hi-Tek then collaborated as a duo on Reflection Eternal (2000), which firmly established them apart from Mos Def, who had gone solo. For a moment there, Kweli and his Rawkus associates seemed like a full-fledged movement - a return to the sort of hip-hop associated with the so-called golden age. However, it wasn't to be. Rawkus somehow lost its momentum, and its roster sadly dispersed, leaving Kweli on his own to carry the torch. He continued his output, beginning with a proper solo debut, Quality (2002), and though he didn't rack up towering sales numbers, he remained a critical favorite. In fact, he was one of the most admired and respected rappers on the major-label circuit during the mid-2000s, best evidenced by Jay-Z's famous Black Album rhyme: "If skills sold, truth be told/I'd probably be, lyrically, Talib Kweli."