If Talib Kweli was attempting to highlight something through his gig at Band on the Wall it was context. He consistently put hip-hop – and by extension, his own music - within its context, whether that be musical, historical, or social. It pervaded all aspects of his performance, from song choice to the visuals on-screen behind him. In a venue with a solid female presence - not an even split by any means - Kweli asked the crowd to look around and recognise the strength needed by women to enter a space that is often considered to be male-centric, placing great emphasis on diversity as something to be celebrated and striven for.
Consistently paying homage to the diverse roots of his music, Kweli blended both his current tracks and Black Star classics with snippets from The Jackson 5 and J Dilla. These fusions were topped off by his spectacular delivery of his well-known track Lonely People which uses the anthemic strings of the Beatle’s classic Eleanor Rigby to create a heavily percussive rap track. His flow, renowned for its fast, rhythmic pacing never ceased to elicit anything less than total admiration from the crowd. When he got into his track Palookas hitting out the lyrics “you ain’t got a verse better than my worst one” a general cry went up in the room of complete and total agreement. Not only does Kweli inspire a confidence in his lyrical abilities, but he leaves an impression of his authenticity and credibility as someone who has pioneered the socially conscious potential of hip-hop.
Having recently seen Maxwell attempt (and fail) to incorporate a socially conscious element into his performance on his most recent tour, I can confidently say that Kweli did it right. Helped in large part by the fact that he has been consistent in revealing an intensely conscious mindset through his lyrics, the way in which he interwove his intent throughout his performance left no doubt about his sincerity. Returning for an encore, he delivered his arguably most popular track Get By backed with visuals of contemporary war. It added further resonance to the song which ruminates on the daily struggles of life in a consumerist world; getting by in one place, can mean a wholly different thing in the next. The track, released way back in 2002, offers the lyrics ‘Yo, I activism, attacking the system/ The Blacks and Latins in prison/Numbers have risen’. Kweli’s parting wish for the audience was that we do not remove hip-hop music from the struggle from which it emerged, and the struggle which is on-going today. It’s clear that it was important to Kweli not just to deliver an impeccable performance that situates him at the core of the hip-hop genre, but also offer an education that cautions against removing that genre from its context.
Words: Lydia Entwistle