Sunday, May 8, 2011


Reflection Eternal: Train of Thought by Talib Kweli is arguably one of the greatest records ever made. It is arguably the hip-hop equivalent of Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Seaand many people have argued that it (arguably) belongs in some sacrosanct vestibule paying homage to the greatest hip hop records of all time, tributes depicted in a medium somewhere between classical marble busts and abstract tessellations, featuring the likes of Nas' Illmatic, Biggie's Ready to DieJay-Z's Reasonable Doubtand Talib Kweli and Mos Def's Blackstar. Arguably. But the fact of the matter is that this album cannot be defended or attacked in a verbal argument: It's nigh impossible to explain exactly what makes this album so appealing. I have no idea how I'm going to approach this post because the only way to figure out if you love the album as much as the incongruous congregation it has garnered is to listen to the entire album, in it's entirety, about four times. Then one must not think about it for about a month, and then listen to it again. At this point, one will either scratch one's head wondering what all the fuss is about, or one will discover one of the most rewarding aural experiences they have ever had. But your proclivity to this album largely depends on a variety of factors that I have no control over. And I should be content with that. But the truth is I'm not. So I'm going to try my hardest to describe just what's so incredible about this album.

Hip-Hop is a many-limbed manic leviathan. There is no doubt that it is a hydra of an art, transmorgifying and transcending at an alarming tempo. The difference between hip-hop and most genres in the pop format is that it defies simple definition. The majority of my friends in this beautifully innocent, brazenly innocuous state of Indiana hate hip-hop. The main thing I realized about people that hate hip-hop is that they always have a very verbose definition of what hip hop is. They list off a set of horrifically patronizing stereotypes: Stereotypes directed not just at hip hop but at poor african americans in urban environments. They're not trying to racist or ignorant: They're probably more informed about these sorts of things than I am. However, the problem with this is that hip hop has no conventions. There is no box. With a genre like rock, if you want to listen to a rock artist that makes conventional rock music, you can listen to an artist like Kings of Leon, an artist that makes really well written conventional rock music. But there are no hip hop artists like that: Hip-hop is a collective of larger-than-life personalities that reside in limbo between labels. It's poetry. It's music. It's whatever you make it. Reflection Eternal: Train of Thought is a testament to artists that defy conventions in order to create their own brand of art that in turn influences the next generation of artists as they create their unique brand of art, and the idols they are informed by: Gil Scott Heron, Nelson Mendela, Lennox Lewis, Nina Simone, Langston Hughes, Fela Kuti, Maya Angelou, and more. It is not so much influenced by jazz as it is informed by it. The album avoids using easily identifiable samples and combines diverse instrumentation to create rich, unique textures- from the dense, polyphonic funk guitar of Soul Rebels, to the chopped and screwed grab bag of orchestral strings and wah guitar in This Means You, to the celeste(!) in Eternalists. And as far as lyricism goes, few are as intelligent or as passionate Talib Kweli was when he was recording this album. Here we see Kweli embodying a quartet of virtues. Soprano: The hunger. Alto: The intellect. Tenor: The confidence, and bass, the personality. Kweli presents himself as a man of many emotions, parables, and memories. It's not that either do anything particularly incredible. It's that the two are so unique, and that they work so well together, and they have such a clear vision of what they want for the album and blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

To tell you the truth if you read that entire paragraph then you're a sucker. You should of just bought or torrented the album half a paragraph ago. I have said absolutely nothing significant  in the last 100 words or so. It didn't even have any of the forced Nabokovian wordplay that I throw in to make myself look intellectual sometimes. But more importantly than any of that, nothing I say about this album should change your viewpoint on this album. You are going to either (a) not bother listening to this album and go on to more important things in your life, (b) briefly listen to some of the links and remember you don't like hip hop or this specific brand of it, (c) you will procure the album and it will hide in the depths of the your library, or (d) you will enjoy the album on your own accord. And I should be okay with that. But I have a major flaw in my personality. I objectify people. Oftentimes I will think I love or respect somebody, when the truth is that I actually love or respect who I want them to be, which is always incredibly unrealistic. I'm not kidding myself: I'm never going meet somebody who loves all of the exact same music, art, film, or people I love as much as I do. But the truth is I will never realize that I have an unrealistic perception of who a person is until they call me out for it. And I feel horrible about it. But I'm trying really, really hard to be better. So don't think that I will think any less of you, or that you will be any worse a person, for not liking this album.  Sometimes I make the mistake of believing that my opinion in something is more valid than someone else's because of my experience in the subject. But the truth is I am a particularly supercilious cipher, in the nebulous cast of the strangers I have never acknowledged. There they are, in their living rooms, watching their Celebrity Apprentice and listening to  their Fela Kuti during commercials, writing their blogs.

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