Talib Kweli: New York S.O.B.’s

Taking time out from supporting Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli plays low-key New York show...

It was just a few months ago that psychotic stuntman David Blaine froze himself in a block of ice in Times Square for three days. Judging from his dazed and pained condition when he came out, it didn’t seem like it would be much fun to replicate the feat. Still, that’s exactly what the queue of people waiting to see Talib Kweli seem willing to do tonight, as the doors to New York’s S.O.B.’s remain closed an hour after they were scheduled to open. After about 20 minutes in icy air, incidentally, your whole body goes a bit numb.

So, the big question, after we start to defrost, is whether it was worth it. It’s of value to note that a year ago, Talib probably wouldn’t have been able to fill this small venue on his own, despite his revered status in Black Star and longtime association with The Roots and their okayplayer crew.

Now, with his ‘Reflection Eternal’ album – teaming Kweli up with producer and fellow vocalist Hi Tek – taking off as one of the most critically-acclaimed underground success stories of the new millennium, suddenly he’s on his way to the kind of stardom already shining for Black Star co-conspirator Mos Def.

Tonight’s performance isn’t the same kick-to-the-head assault as Kweli’s last NYC performance, on the Lyricist Lounge 2 tour, which featured heavy-hitting guest appearances from Xzibit and Pharoahe Monch. Instead, it’s a more laid-back, intimate affair, with a light-hearted mood that suits the smaller, tropical-themed venue.

Hi Tek isn’t in the DJ spot tonight, but he does join Talib on stage about halfway into the set, to lay down some rhymes and show off his vocal skills on tracks like ‘The Blast’, which spotlights Kweli’s current touring crew, the Shock Body Rockers (one DJ, two singers) and Black Star’s ‘Definition’, which namechecks Mos Def, who is unfortunately not in attendance to perform it himself.

Rah Digga and Xzibit are also not in the house, as Talib informs us before taking on their parts with Hi Tek on a spirited ‘Down For The Count’, but when he gushes on about his love his love for De La Soul, the “greatest hip hop act” ever, it’s because Posdnuos is here, jumping up on stage for ‘Soul Rebels’ and it’s chorus of “De La is what you need/Reflection is what you need”.

The set ends with ‘Reflection Eternal”s bouncing take on Nina Simone’s ‘Four Women’ (renamed ‘For Women’), part of Kweli’s socially conscious repetoire, but it’s the repeated line from ‘Soul Rebels’ that lingers strongest at the end: “We don’t live for hip hop, it lives for us”. Tonight, at least, it really feels that way, and though the show is regrettably short, Talib – who is currently also opening for Erykah Badu – has created a warm, bumping, inviting atmosphere, perfect to thaw any remaining chill we’ve brought inside.

Doug Levy