As one of the few overground rappers still carrying the flickering torch of hip-hop's more spiritual and internal reflections, Talib Kweli can sound understandably angry at times with his last-man-standing delivery. But the Brooklyn MC still flows calm and cool with his rhymes, smoother than his peers Q-Tip and Chuck D. In fact, on Reflection Eternal, Kweli's mellow vibe (including Hi-Tek's simple, chopped-up, R&B-drenched production) seems geared to make certain his fans pick up books instead of guns. As Kweli says, he'd rather "smack you in the face with a metaphor" than a two-by-four. He rhymes tributes to his ancestors on "Africa Dream," mourns the death of loved ones (and hip-hop's soul) on "Too Late," and sings the praises of women (for their minds and integrity, not their T&A) on the Nina Simone-inspired "Expansion Outro/For Women." Follow the history of rap back to its NYC community-get-together origins, and you'll know that Kweli is right on—especially these days—when he says he's here to "even up the ratio of hip-hop to that shit they drop on the radio." On "Africa Dream," he distills the entire scene into his rap, "These cats drink champagne and toast death and pain/Like slaves on a ship talkin' 'bout who got the flyest chain." There are a few more up-tempo cuts, with special guests who might help them get spun over the airwaves, but "Africa Dream" is the one you need to hear if you've ever cared about the art of hip-hop. (Michael Coyle)
When the next acoustic revolution happens, it'll start right here. The minute you put on local singer/songwriter Coleen Rider's debut, you start getting paranoid that David Geffen will come snatch it out of your player and whisk her off to obscenely greater glories. But you also get something else: 11 songs of pure, unadulterated joy, like "Chilling Revelation," which opens this disc with a haunting piano figure and stirring vocals by Rider, the kind of lilting, controlled voice-box gymnastics we haven't heard since the late, great Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention. Rider achieves soulfulness without being overly breathy, especially on her quieter songs—a technique Tori Amos should look into. "Quiet Kiss" is a perfect example, a song that achieves nirvana with only a spare acoustic guitar backing. The countrified, down-a-dusty-road tale "Drove Her Crazy" could give the Dixie Chicks a run for their money. Answering the "where have all the old punkers gone?" question, meanwhile, is none other than ex-Adolescent Frank Agnew, who plays guitar on half the songs and co-wrote two (once-and-future punk Steve Soto is also slated to play drums in Rider's live band). Rider stretches out and shows more of her chops on the vibe-y rocker "Fraidy Cat," although her talents shine best on her softer numbers for this outing. A truly standout effort worthy of repeated spinnings, this sensitive album smartly skips the "poor me" baggage that has become so rife among today's Top 40. In a just world, transglobal success would seem imminent—so, just in case, buy it now while she's still local. (George Fryer)
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CD AVAILABLE AT WWW.COLEENRIDER.COM.