Talent Attracts Talent: A Look at Talib Kweli Collaborations

Talib-Kweli

One of the greatest parts of Hip-Hop is the emphasis on collaborating and putting multiple artists on a single track.  There are plenty of classic jams throughout Hip-Hop history built on this idea, and one thing’s for sure: Talib Kweli is really good at being involved with them.  Either being recruited, or starting them himself.

Lyricists appreciate other good lyricists, usually out of plain love for the music.  Studying the game and recognizing other good musicians is just as important as making the music yourself.  Being surrounded by talent makes Talib easy to recognize, as he’s frequent collaborators with Mos Def, The Roots, Lauryn Hill, and Common, to name a few.  The collaborative album Black Star with Mos Def is an album that has been specially preserved in the gallery of Hip-Hop history. Their names were arguably the biggest on Rawkus Records in the late 90s.  Impressive legacy, to say the least.

Today, I’m going to look at three especially impressive tracks, including one recent track that might be the best Talib collaboration yet.

Talib Kweli – Guerilla Monsoon Rap ft. Black Thought, Kanye West, and Pharoahe Monch

“Get By” is what really propelled Quality into classic record territory, but it would be foolish to pass up on this posse cut gem in the middle of the album.  The most underrated MC of all time (Black Thought), the syllable king (Pharoahe Monch), the creatively mad genius (Kanye West), and Talib all on one track? Quite an impressive feature list for the first solo album of your career.

To be completely fair, Kanye doesn’t have a verse, but he does provide the beat and the hook.  All these guys go in, as per usual.

Reflection Eternal (Talib Kweli & DJ Hi-Tek) – Just Begun ft. Jay Electronica, Mos Def, and J. Cole

The coolest part about this collaboration is the snapshot of where both Jay Electronica and J. Cole were in their respective careers.  Jay Electronica had his infamous signing to Roc-A-Fella Records that very same year, and the Hip-Hop community was swept up in his mystique.  With no legit album (and a constant promise of an approaching project), people wanted to hear more and more.  A lot of fans were dying to hear more and more music.

J. Cole’s position was quite different at this time.  During his Friday Night Lights era, he was definitely not getting the same respect he gets nowadays, post-Sideline Story.  One thing I’ve always respected majorly about Cole is his ability to write poetically.  The guy’s been doing it his whole career, and the verse on this is no exception.

You can tell on this track that all of these artists knew what was at stake.  A Jay Electronica appearance was a huge boost to the importance of the track, raising the bar for what needed to be written among all four rappers.

Talib Kweli, Elzhi, and Phonte – No Competition (prod. by Khrysis)

“No Competition” is a gift to Hip-Hop heads across the world.  All three of these rappers have been praised individually for their lyrical prowess and songwriting in general.  It’s impressive that all of them are still doing it as well as always to this day.  It all comes together over nice production by a rising star in the Hip-Hop game, Khrysis.

This cut is on the album Jamla Is The Squad, which just released on January 28th.  Be sure to check it out.

-Ronzo

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Monday Grooves 12/16/13

 

Cold ass raps, cold ass weather

Cold ass raps, cold ass weather

It’s nice to finally be back in the groove of writing on here.  Now, just like me, it’s time to get you back in the groove.  Monday grooves.  Word.

(That was cheesy, but hey.  I couldn’t resist)

1. Marco Polo & Ruste Juxx – Fuckin’ Wit a Gangsta

“Jigga payin Dwyane, I’m paying Gilbert Arenas”

Man, It’s hard to catch Sean Price on a track not killing it.  The O.G. is and always has been completely hilarious with dope bars to bring along.

I am a big fan of Marco Polo’s music, and I pretty much have been since I first heard his Port Authority album.  His grimy New York style is reminiscent of a DJ Premier beat.  Naturally, Ruste Juxx fits perfectly.  The Crown Heights resident has been grimy since the beginning, spitting hard-hitting lyrics about street life in New York city.

Marco’s boom-bap stylings aid the perfect head-nodding atmosphere, making The Exxecution one of the best Hip-Hop albums of 2010.  “Fuckin’ Wit a Gangsta” is the highlight of the project, with a fantastic (as expected) Sean Price feature.

 

2. Fashawn – The Beginning

Fashawn has been doing this whole rap thing for quite some time now.  His work with Exile and his MPC on Boy Meets World is widely regarded as classic material.  This album put Fash on the scene.

It wasn’t because of his connections or catchy hooks, either (don’t get me wrong, he has both of those things). What really stuck out to people was plain and simple: the guy can plain rap.

With that being said, it’s been awhile since we’ve heard any solo Fashawn tracks.  His most recent work was with Murs, on This Generation.  That album was good, but it’s nice to hear that Fashawn is still getting it in with his classic style.  “The Beginning” is a fantastic teaser for his TBA upcoming album, The Ecology.

 

3. Elzhi – It Ain’t Hard to Tell

Remakes of classic albums usually don’t work.  Especially with albums that are considered timeless masterpieces.  The only thing is, Elzhi has just as intricate and complicated bars over revamped Ilmatic beats as Nas once had over the originals back in 1995.

I love the fact that Elzhi can compete with the best.  I also love that he represents Detroit.  We could not ask for better underground lyrical representation.

I strongly urge you to listen to Elmatic if you haven’t already, especially if you’re a fan of NasIllmatic.

-Ronzo

 

Top 5 Detroit MC’s of All Time

Detroit Skyline

The D has always been a hotbed of musical talent, whether it’s in Hip-Hop or not. Guys like Kid Rock and J Dilla have made their marks in not only Michigan and the United States, but the entire world.

We have a long and rich history of music as well. For instance, the stylings of Motown swept the nation in the 1960’s with fantastic dance music, groovy styles, and famous personalities.

It would only be fitting that some of the greatest Hip-Hop artists have come from this city, as well. Also, being from Ann Arbor, I can’t help but pay homage to the most important city in the state that raised me.

While it’s hard to narrow down just five, especially with many new artists making waves in the industry currently, here is my list of the most successful MC’s to ever come out Motor City.

The majority of the list is based on lyrical content, success in the industry, and subject matter.

5. Big Sean
Big Sean

While many may not consider Big Sean to be one of the better lyricists in the game, nobody can deny the fact that the man has talent for making major hits. His huge impact in the music industry started about 3 years ago, and has been gaining more steam ever since. For awhile, Big Sean on your hook, or on a feature verse, meant that your song was going to get noticed. His album Finally Famous was at the forefront of this charge, with three singles getting major airplay on the radio. “Dance (A$$)” was all over the place in 2011-12, even getting a remix nod from another artist making huge waves at a similar time, Nicki Minaj. “My Last” had a resurgent Chris Brown on it, and “Marvin Gaye & Chardonnay” honestly has one of the best Kanye West features heard in a couple years. The high quality features really took Big Sean to the next level, showing him as a legitimate artist to co-sign and support.

Plus, the story of Kanye finding Sean is quite a good one. After a good relationship was built with WHTD, Big Sean was making routine appearances. Kanye, doing an interview in the area, stopped by to hear a freestyle verse, loving every second of it. Sean was signed to GOOD Music two years later, ready to make an impact.

Of course, Kanye didn’t realize how important of a sign this would be for GOOD Music until the Finally Famous Mixtapes dropped. Catching fire immediately with “Getcha Some”, and a flow he called Supa Dupa (one he claimed to make), Big Sean was ready for the scene.

Hall of Fame drops later this year, so let’s see if he can continue his hot streak. Regardless, the impact he has made in the industry deserves recognition.

4. Danny Brown
Danny Brown

Bringing something new to the table is always important in music, and it seems like that’s Danny Brown’s main focus. His ability to take humor, intelligence, and creativity and combine it into one is something extra special. Not only that, his unique voice and delivery add to his mystique. What’s most important though, is that he has the lyrical skills to back it up. One of my favorite songs in recent memory is his banger made for Scion, “Grown Up”. Danny Brown’s ability to build a scene for you about his childhood is something that anyone can respect. His lines have you involved heavily in the story, and the drums hit hard. Perfect for some head-nodding.

Plus, you can’t go wrong a with a super dope video:

The album XXX made major waves in 2011, placing him at the top of the Hip Hop underground scene, as well as helping him gain respect from many of the top Hip Hop critics across the world.

Many may shy away from Danny Brown’s experimental style, but the important thing is he’s always going to be doing what he wants. People respect that. Plus, with the major hype being built up for his debut album Old, there seems to be a lot more coming from the young MC rocking skinny jeans and a foreign haircut.

3. Royce da 5’9″
Royce da 5'9"

Royce da 5’9″ fits perfectly into the long list of “Great Rappers that Never Made it Big”. Royce boasts one of the most powerful tongues in all of the industry, period. This dude can spit.

“Gun Harmonizing feat. Crooked I” and “Boom” still make my jaw drop, even after listening to Royce for many years now. Not to mention, strong showings like the recent “Writer’s Block feat. Eminem” proves that Royce still has all the talent in the world. His album with Eminem, Hell: The Sequel was the first album that Royce gained commercial success with, but unfortunately, it’s not close to his best work. Both Eminem and Royce da 5’9″ are at the tail end of their careers, and the project was majorly held up by Eminem’s star status. This go-round was a far cry from the original “Bad Meets Evil” track, an Eminem song that introduced the tandem. Rock City, and Street Hop are both quality records that show what Royce can do. The latter is filled with DJ Premier beats, and the former is his impressive debut.

Don’t get me wrong, though, it’s not as if Royce has not achieved any success. Working with DJ Premier is proof in itself of being a talented MC. Premier doesn’t work with untalented acts. Also, it’s a major plus that the majority of his albums have been received well critically.

It’s quite strange that commercial success has been so elusive with Royce, but regardless, he remains one of the dopest to ever pick up the microphone. Even About.com recognized Royce da 5’9″ as the 33rd best MC out of their top 50. Now it’s your guys’ turn to recognize him.

2. Elzhi
elzhi

Here’s another mainly unknown MC that can rap circles around anyone you place him in front of. Originally a member of Slum Village, his complicated rhyme schemes are full of fancy alliteration and internal patterns. The Preface was his first solo project with national distribution. It boasted many different styles all executed to perfection, which is shown through a song like “Colors”. The track has him using all different types of colors as rhyme schemes to describe different situations. Other tracks like “The Guessing Game” has the listener trying to figure out which direction he’ll take a multisyllabic rhyme once started. This is much more difficult of a game than he makes it sound, though, as Elzhi’s lyrical direction will consistently surprise you. The Preface was my introduction to Elzhi, and probably the most impressive project I’ve heard from the MC (including his Slum Village days).

The special thing about Elzhi, or any other similar lyrically talented rapper, is that the real meaning of the lyrics are hidden deep within the complicated rhymes and rhythms of the verses. Albums full of tracks with this level of meaning, mixed with beats that have just the right feel, create classic albums.

For an example of what Elzhi is capable of, here’s a lyrical breakdown of one of my favorite verses, his feature on “K.G.B.” by Binary Star.

A predator with the literature
it shows through my signature
deliver more, did just for your clique
what’s even more sick is I’m a visitor
and plus they be diggin more
scopin the perimeter
sneak within the floor
terminator 2, split your brain in two
while you snore

The ridiculously clever use of internal rhymes are scattered throughout these couple bars. Elzhi manages to do this throughout the majority of his tracks, even for the entirety of songs.

Elzhi can almost be considered a throwback to the rap days of old, where lyrics were the most important thing to have if you wanted to be recognized. He’s one of the major reasons as to why Slum Village was as good as they were (besides the fact that they had Dilla), and also a very important part in making Detroit Hip Hop what it is today.

1. Eminem
Eminem

There’s really not much I can say about Eminem that hasn’t already been said. Even if nowadays his subject matter might be watered down, or his flow too one-dimensional, you still hear verses from him that completely surprise you. The man has been making the whole Hip Hop nation stand at attention since his Rawkus Records days.

With a Dr. Dre cosign and a majorly successful album, The Slim Shady EP, Eminem shocked the entire world. His ability to make incredibly complex rhyme schemes, while still keeping everything he was saying original and innovative, was something that nobody had ever really heard before. At least, nobody had heard it at the level he was doing it.

He made songs about doing drugs and killing people, and made it sound cool. His subject matter was so overwhelmingly controversial, politicians were striking back at him for it. Most artists don’t incite this kind of attention from the government; but when you’re that famous, it’s a little bit different. From 1999 until about 2005, Eminem completely dominated the music industry.

He’s even starred in a movie about his own life. There are only a few artists in all of music history that can lay claim to that.

The best part? He’s from the D. Nobody has represented Detroit better than Eminem, and he will continue to represent it until the day he dies.

Honorable Mention: Guilty Simpson, Proof, Obie Trice, Bizarre, Xzibit

-Ronzo