Talib Kweli WIth Immortal Technique, Niko IS, Chino XL, CF and Poison Pen Trees, Dallas Tuesday, March 31, 2015
"You mean Talib, lyrics stick to ya rib?" It was a subtle part of the night, slipped in before Talib Kweli even hit the stage at Trees on Wednesday, but it was one that resonated. The line is from Kanye West's classic 2004 debut The College Dropout, and it speaks to why Kweli's latest tour, dubbed the People's Champion Tour, is so hard-earned. Now a veteran at 39, he's carried the weight of the East Coast underground on his shoulders and spit fire through the mic for two decades. Even Kanye recognizes that.
Kweli made his breakthrough in the hip-hop industry all the way back in the late '90s when he collaborated with well-respected MC Mos Def to form the group Black Star. The release of Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star (an album co-produced with Hi-Tek) in 1998 served as the underground airplane that catapulted the lyrical genius straight into the mainstream rap of the early 2000s.
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Respected mostly for his wicked punchlines that attack political issues most rappers are scared to touch -- social and political corruption, race, class and sex -- Kweli reigns in the hip-hop game as one of the best rappers to ever touch the mic from a lyrical standpoint. As of late, he can also be considered an activist given the outspoken public expression of his views regarding current affairs of social and political injustice.
To get the crowd warmed up, Poison Pen, the host for the tour, brought out a slew of underground artists to showcase their rhymes. CF (Constant Flow) was up first to transfix the crowd with an impressive freestyle introduction that kept us on our toes. We also heard from Chino XL, a Bronx native who is known for his fascinating storytelling methods and jagged rhyme schemes. He went straight for the crowd's heart with his first song, which featured a story about his daughter who has been cancer-free since February of 2004. Niko IS, a Brazilian recording artist, made the ladies melt with his laid-back flow and ... not so laid-back hair.
Underground sensation, rapper and urban activist Immortal Technique was next to take the stage, where he preached heavily about political issues and concerns. Born in Harlem and with the burden of a few former prison stints on his shoulders, Immortal Technique's approach can sometimes be considered controversial and off-balance. But he's an artist who takes great pride in addressing issues from global standpoints and he's never afraid to attack delicate topics, bringing their relevance to the forefront. With the release of Revolutionary Vol.'s 1 and 2 all the way back in the early 2000s, he's been in the game for a solid 15 years now. And Tuesday night, he stood up and proved that he's not going anywhere anytime soon.
Inevitably, though, there's a certain change in the air when the headlining artist hits the stage. Everything seems to fall in place. And when Kweli came out, decked head to toe in his Brooklyn swagger (fitted cap, sneakers, graphic tee and a bandana tied around his neck), everyone felt the change, and synced accordingly.
Kweli had plenty of favorites to roll out, and he really struck a chord with the crowd when he performed tracks like "Never Been in Love." When he screamed, "Dallas do you love me?" the crowd hurled the energy right back with a huge roar -- which only became more fervent as we caught glimpses of Mos Def on the big LED screen behind him.
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But it wasn't just the old hits that got everyone going either. Kweli may have busied himself more and more over the years as an activist, but he showcased that he's still got the magic touch with material off of his two latest releases: Prisoners of Conscious and Gravitas, both released in 2013.
And even though the two cities seem like they are worlds apart, we rocked out Brooklyn-style in the heart of Texas. Kweli, still fighting the good fight and spitting fire after all these years, was the man responsible for connecting the dots.
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