About a year and a half since his last show in Toronto, Talib Kweli has returned, this time for a small-venue concert at Rockpile West. This would be my fourth time seeing Talib Kweli perform, and each time has been slightly different. I first saw him at my very first rap concert, the 2009 Rock The Bells Festival in Los Angeles, where he did a Reflection Eternal set with DJ Hi-Tek. Next I saw him at the 2011 Rock The Bells, this time in New York, where he performed the entire Black Star album with Mos Def/Yasiin Bey. Finally, I saw him at his most recent show in Toronto, a solo, headlining set at the free 2013 Unity Festival in Dundas Square. After seeing him at all these large, outdoor festivals, it would be cool seeing him in a smaller, indoor setting.
The last time I saw Kweli, he had just released his Prisoner of Conscious album, and I imagine the Unity Festival might have been where he met Mississauga’s own Rich Kidd, who opened for Kweli that night and would eventually do some production on Gravitas later that year. Today, while Gravitas is still Kweli’s latest album, Talib has been focused on raising funds to support the Ferguson community and has also been preparing to release a new album in 2015, Radio Silence. He’s also been making stronger efforts to be more connected to his fans in recent years, through KweliClub.com and his various social media postings. This was an exciting opportunity to see Talib Kweli in an up-close and personal performance.
The only other time I’ve been to Rockpile West was in 2013 to see Tech N9ne, and this was a much different crowd. I did however see a lot of familiar faces from all the shows I’ve been going to over the past few years. Stacee Brizzle was hosting again, and some of the local opening acts included Gene One & Harvey Dentist performing some new material, Mohammad Ali who had a dope beatboxer with him emulating the Super Mario theme, and Robbie G promoting his new Premo mixtape. I couldn’t get any pictures of the openers because my crew was at the bar the entire time, but we made our way into the crowd just before Talib Kweli got on stage.
With the 15-year anniversary of Reflection Eternal’s Train Of Thought album approaching, it’s only right Talib opened his set with the classic “Down For The Count”. He didn’t stay in one particular era though, as he jumped into “Palookas”, my favourite track off 2011’s Gutter Rainbows, and then teased a couple tracks off 2007’s Ear Drum, doing partial verses from each of “Say Somethin'” and “Listen”. Next, he got everyone to throw up the Wu-Tang “W” with their hands as he performed the RZA-produced “Rocket Ships” off 2013’s Prisoner of Conscious, and then he dove back into some throwbacks.
Talib reached deep into his catalogue and pulled out “Never Been In Love”, off the underrated The Beautiful Struggle album. After doing all three verses to “Never Been In Love”, he followed it with a song for the single people: a cover of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” which turned into “Lonely People”. He then got back into some Reflection Eternal tracks, doing “In This World” off 2010’s Revolutions Per Minute and “This Means You” and “Too Late” off of Train Of Thought. The party kept rocking as Talib performed his verse from Kanye West’s “Get Em High” before doing another Reflection Eternal classic, “Move Somethin'”, with the beat changing in the second verse to “Whoa” by Black Rob. The crowd was hyped!
The time machine got driven even further back, as the DJ played some classic reggae songs, including some Bob and Damian Marley. This then turned into a Black Star segment, with the reggae chunes transitioning into “Definition”, and that song transitioning into “Re: Definition”. Talib performed his verses from both songs before doing “K.O.S. (Determination)”. Being the activist that he is, Talib paused here to give a short speech about racial equality and the “Black/Muslim Lives Matter” movement. As part of the speech, he said that even if you’re not a part of those “minorities”, it’s still a statement everyone should agree with, and he compared it to other movements, saying that you wouldn’t go to a Cancer rally and say “wait, what about AIDS?”.
Kweli then got back to the music, performing “What’s Real”, the Rich Kidd-produced track off of Gravitas. He ended the set with his obvious classic hit, “Get By”. It wasn’t quite over yet though, as the crowd chanted for an encore and Talib came back out for a couple more songs. He performed “State of Grace” off of Gravitas, nailing the fast flow, and “I Try” off of The Beautiful Struggle before saying peace.
Overall, this was another great show. Talib Kweli is the perfect balance between entertainer and social activist, and he kept the party in a good vibe while delivering important messages. He performed his raps smoothly, although forgetting some lyrics, but knew how to command the crowd and get them moving to the beat. The Rockpile proved to be a good venue again, with some nice additions to the layout since the last time I was there. Stay on the lookout for Radio Silence this year, and remember to buy it directly from Talib Kweli on KweliClub.com.
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