The Hype: Any time revered MC/producer duo Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek get together (which is usually most of the time), you better believe there's an audience of knowledge-hungry hip hop heads waiting to devour every last track they put out. It had been a decade since their last full-length album as collaborative unit Reflection Eternal, but on May 18, they released Revolutions Per Minute which quickly caught the attention of hand-wringing hip-hop critics and fans alike. Last night, they orchestrated a marathon set at the Grove to show some love to their OC fans.
The Show: Reaching deep into a decade's-worth of politically-laced lyricism, Brooklyn MC Talib Kweli was intent on giving fans at the Grove their money's worth last night with a marathon set than ran until almost 1 a.m. Fans pressed against the crowd barriers shouted back each line of material while simultaneously straining to get the attention of the rapper from behind his purple sun glasses. Tossing out some choice tracks from the new Reflections Eternal album, he and legendary producer Hi-Tek spit out countless verses punctuated by sharp and savvy beats that bounced off the walls of Anaheim's big box venue.
As he traipsed from one side of the stage to the other with the mic at his mouth, music videos from songs like “Hot Thing” blazed up the gigantic twin screens. For the most part, Hi-Tek played the role of song selector, firing out hot tracks and past collaborations with Kweli from his raised, DJ battle station mounted at center stage. However, fans of his rhyme skills did get a taste of his flow when he took the limelight midway through the set, sporting a cocked back Cincinnati Reds cap as he spit his grimy underground club banger “My Piano,” and teamed up with Kweli to shout the lyrics of “Nati Streetz” over sharp snare snaps and undulating big-time beats.
Despite rocking a wealth of collaborative material–even a few classic Black Star tracks– it actually took them a while to get to their RPM material. But when they did, they didn't disappoint. Songs like “Strangers (Paranoid)”, “Ballad of the Black Gold” and “Back Again” bounced, clicked and clacked with Golden Age inspiration and tribal percussion as heads in the crowd bobbed in unison and blunt vapor rose to the rafters. The set also offered some noteworthy cameos from respected Cali rapper Ras Kazz and opening act Strong Arm Steady. By the time they left and came back for their 15-minute encore, the crowd had absorbed a daunting catalog of Kweli and Tek's tight-spun rhythmic tales of triumph, redemption and everyday grit that rarely lost their luster.
But even those who expected a spirited, gem-filled set from Reflection Eternal walked away with some unexpected stories to tell. Lead support came from raucous Inglewood rap duo U-N-I who came with a pocket full of thumping club jams, loads of lyrical deftness. Of course, their song selector DJ SwiVill kinda of stole their set when he got on one knee and bust out a marriage proposal to his lady on stage in the middle of their set. Lucky for him, she said “yes.” The show was also highlighted by with more exceptional sets from Kida and Strong Arm Steady. Crazy Lew, SAS and Laws were the first acts on stage.
The Crowd: A well-mixed brew of multi-cultural hip-hop heads that seemed to know just about every lyric recited on stage added with a dash of fine hipster females and twenty-somethings who looked like they just rolled out of their smoke-filled dorm rooms before arriving at the ticket booth.
Overheard: After the show, two of Kweli's LA fans were deliberating on what to do after the show. One girl made it sound as if she were standing on another planet once she hit the Anaheim parking lot. “I don't know, we might wanna be careful…we're in the OC now. Keep those car doors locked.”
Man, things must be getting pretty bad around here. Or maybe they were just kidding. Eh, we'll go with option B.