Published Feb 21, 2015Though the style of hip-hop music that he was instrumental in popularizing perhaps doesn't have the same visibility as it once did, Talib Kweli hasn't lost many steps in bringing the "conscious" side of the genre to audiences around the globe. Now a fiercely independent artist moving into the 20th year of his lengthy career, Kweli is still very much a man of the people both in and out of the studio, speaking and spitting about a variety of social and political subjects. Delighting the dedicated conscious rap heads that braved Toronto's icy temperatures to make it to the Rockpile West, Kweli showed he is still a veritable force behind the mic, even after two decades of writing rhymes.
Taking the stage to raucous applause, Kweli's set began as a trip backwards through his lengthy back catalogue, flying through the RZA-produced "Rocket Ships" from 2013's Prisoner of Conscious, numerous cuts from his Reflection Eternal work, and the confident swagger of 2010's "Palookas," with the crowd mirroring his confident claim "You ain't got a verse better than my worst one." Kweli remained cool and composed over top of both soulful boom-bap sounds and impressive moments of a cappella, pushing his rhymes through a number of mic feedback issues.
Breaking away from his own material, he paid homage to many different of musical counterparts, firstly in memory of God-tier beatsmith J Dilla with "Crushin'" and Slum Village spitter Baatin with the group's "The Look of Love." A quick tip of the hat was also given to his Black Star counterpart Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def), dimming the lights down low in leading the crowd through the hook of "Umi Says." Along with a short run of reggae tracks to warm up the crowd, Kweli brought the energy levels back up with a run through his bass-heavy, "Eleanor Rigby"-sampling "Lonely People." Could he be the next artist in line to collaborate with Sir Paul? Only time will tell.
As the show wore on, the man's speedy execution got the better of him in a handful of moments, but he was able to recover nicely each time. Turning the focus to 2007's EarDrum, Kweli launched into the steady bounce of "Say Something" before cutting it short, admitting the lyrics weren't as fresh in his mind as they had once been. In redemption, he dug deeper into the record and worked his way through the equally knocking "Listen!!!" Pulling out a short string of Black Star hits later on in the set, Kweli stumbled a bit in delivering his dizzying verses from "Definition" and "Re: Definition," but redeemed himself with an effortless delivery of all three of his verses from "K.O.S. (Determination)." It was at this point that Kweli stopped the show to deliver an impassioned speech to the crowd about racial injustice, checking privilege and equality.
Inspired by the crowd's reaction to his message, Kweli rounded out his set with powerful renditions of "Going Hard," recent Rich Kidd-produced "What's Real," and the Kanye West-produced hit "Get By." Standing motionless onstage with a mile-wide grin at the set's end, he let the crowd's adoring chants of "Kweli! Kweli! Kweli!" rain down upon him — a man of the people, indeed.