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[whitespace] The Kweli Zone

Blackstar rocks the Grove, but acoustics and setting don't help

By David Espinoza

THE CLOSING OF hip-hop haven Palookaville last year will now officially be the most bitched about subject in this column for the next six months. The dearth of suitable venues to hold hip-hop shows was painfully clear April 3 with Blackstar MC Talib Kweli doing his thang at the Boardwalk's Coconut Grove stage. Kweli was as nimble on the rhyming as it gets, and the Coconut Grove is fine for a prom, but combining the two was just a bad idea.

Aside from the grad-night-at-Disneyland motif of the venue, the acoustics and sound mix were second-rate. Adding to the already forced setting was the excessive amount of police wandering about waiting for trouble that never happened (no doubt the result of some city-events-permit, fingernail-biting desk-slave with limited knowledge about hip-hop, who incorrectly labeled Kweli a gangsta rapper).

To his credit, Kweli, along with two lovely backup singers and one lovely DJ, did the best he could with what he had to work with. Coming onstage a little past 11pm in what was suppose to be an extended set since headliners Blackalicious couldn't make it, Kweli elicited a huge roar from an eager crowd. Like his Blackstar counterpart Mos Def, Talib Kweli's main weapon in working an audience is not testosterone but intellect. It's hip-hop that resonates best with the college circuit, being built on the erudite high-handedness of KRS-One and positive but still funky Pan-Africanism of A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul.

In contrast to the outrageously materialistic mainstream hip-hop stars (granted, the music is damn catchy), Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek represent hip-hop at its most mature point. Just as modern rock bands like the Smiths and the Pixies pushed the envelope precisely when all the attention was on cock-rock during the 1980s, Talib Kweli's lyrical philosophy has touched a nerve with many hip-hop heads who want their MCs to say something more meaningful than having ho's in different area codes.

Without being the least bit self-righteous (something KRS-One could never escape), Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek worked in references to Africa and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and even bits of jazz-scatting into the show. Besides playing material from their Reflection Eternal album, Kweli also dropped snippets from his landmark collaboration with Mos Def (a.k.a. Blackstar) with underground hits like "Brown Skin Lady" and "Redefinition." While the live renditions of Blackstar material didn't completely match the soulfulness of the studio recordings, all in all, Kweli and Hi-Tek still delivered the goods.

An honorable mention goes out to Life Savas, who did a fine job of warming up the stage with soul heavy reggae hip-hop. Be sure to catch next time around if you can.

Shows 'n' Ho's

There's still a chance to catch Blueprint--the "Best Band in Town" according to the Metro Goldie Awards, before they move on to exclusive interviews with MTV and Spin magazine. This show with Ruberside Down hits next Friday, April 19th, at the Brookdale Lounge. This just in! Slam-poet hero Saul Williams (no band this time) will be speaking at UCSC's Media Theatre, room 110, tonight. A production of the Ethnic Student Organization Council at UCSC, tickets are only $6--that is, if they're still available.

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From the April 17-24, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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