Talib Kweli broke ground as a top-tier, razor-sharp, socially-minded lyricist as a member of Reflection Eternal with Hi-Tek and in Black Star with Mos Def. The Brooklyn rapper’s solo material has been equally charged, from the inspirational “Get By” to the tribute to his lady on “Hot Thing.”
Kweli continues his remarkable creative evolution with “Habits Of The Heart,” the debut album from Idle Warship, his group with singer Res. The sonically and thematically diverse collection allows both Kweli and Res to explore new components of their artistry. Kweli, for instance, plays a violent character on “Enemy,” while Res takes a decidedly upbeat stance on “The Floor.”
With Idle Warship in full swing, Talib sat down to give us an exclusive look at his Top 5 Artists’ Reinventions, something he knows plenty about.
5. Street Sweeper Social Club / Bad Meets Evil
Talib Kweli: “Those are equally powerful unions, but for different reasons. Eminem and Royce Da 5’9” get to be as debaucherous and as lyrical, witty, clever, bad and evil as they want to be. It’s always fun to listen to Eminem and to listen to Royce, but listening to them together is like double the fun. With Street Sweeper Social Club’s Tom Morello and Boots Riley, you’re not going to find artists that are more socially active than those two. It’s a welcome change for artists to care that much and to be on the top of their game. I think I was surprised they formed a group because I think of their music as so different, but it really is not that different. For them to come together is amazing to watch.
4. Velvet Revolver
Talib Kweli: “It’s members of Guns N’ Roses and Stone Temple Pilots. These were huge, huge, super groups. When Velvet Revolver came out, it was still like it was a heavy rock sound, but it was like a focused version of the sounds of those two groups. It was great to see that those musicians, those rock stars with such big egos, could create something new and have it blow up and be dope like that.”
3. Lucy Pearl
Talib Kweli: “Raphael Saadiq and Dawn Robinson were doing R&B, so it wasn’t that much of a departure from what they were doing. If you remember the lyrics on that “Dance Tonight” record, they’re talking about flossing and platinum and ice and being in a Bentley. It’s such a flossy record, but it feels like such a down-to-earth record. I don’t think Raphael Saadiq could have come out singing about a Bentley if it wasn’t for Lucy Pearl. I would have loved to hear a second Lucy Pearl album. I think Idle Warship is closer to Lucy Pearl than people might realize.”
Talib Kweli: “I don’t even really know that much about the individuals who make up Gorillaz. But I have their albums and I think they’re great albums. What they’ve been able to do visually and how they’ve been able to market the group and create something totally different from what they do as solo artists is something I think Idle Warship can take notes from.”
1. Gnarls Barkley
Talib Kweli: “Cee Lo, I think he’s one of the truest artists out there. Seeing his transition from being just a cold-blooded MC to watching him grow and expand his singing to the point where he’s on “The Voice” is just incredible. When you listen to a Goodie Mob album, as talented as all of the members are, when you hear Cee Lo’s verses, it’s like a caged animal. He was starting to sing and explore different subject matter and he would always find the most left-field approach to his verse to stand out amongst that group. You can hear Cee Lo’s influence in the group on the “World Party” album. That’s where the animal in him starts coming out. I think he always wanted to do that. Gnarls Barkley allowed him to be that person.”
For more from Soren Baker follow him on Twitter: @SorenBaker.