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Reflection Eternal: Train of Thought

Talib Kweli is a rapper. Talib Kweli owns a bookstore in Brooklyn. He used to have a lot more book references in his rhymes, but he had to cut down. "It was too easy for me. It was becoming a crutch, sort of like how other people use designer names." Dedicating his first solo album since his partnership with Mos Def (in Black Star) to parentless children, single parents, and his devoted fans, Kweli is not about an image, but a message. In the intro, Kweli maintains, "We don't represent the streets, we represent the folks in them."

Kweli's musical ancestors, upon whom he "reflects eternally," would be proud of his lyrical wizardry. When the Joyce and Morrison references flow too quickly, Kweli moves on to more comprehensive themes. Throughout Train of Thought, his debut collaboration with producer Hi-Tek as Reflection Eternal, songs cover the revolutionary mentality ("Cats who spill blood for a cause, not just because"), the state of hip-hop ("Emcees who got the masses mesmerized/with empty rhetoric/they better quit"), and love ("We speak the love language, they speak from pain and anguish"). He only stops philosophizing to become a storyteller on the bonus track, "For Women."

While Kweli's words pour and his rhythm pulses throughout the album, Hi-Tek's backing tracks flow right along with the lyrics. There's a choppy, head-banging beat in "Move Somethin'," a smooth, head-swaying pulse in "Soul Rebels" (featuring De La Soul), and a contemplative, slow groove in "Love Language." Hi-Tek gets full room to stretch out with jazzy instrumentals like "Africa Dream."

The conclusion? Kweli himself said it best in "On Mission" off Rawkus' Soundbombing II: "I'm the original, you're the King James version." His seamless skills and lack of pretense are enough to make other rappers seem like poor imitations. (Rawkus)

—David Gest

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