The Brickhouse in downtown Phoenix was more like an oven on a recent August Friday night. Many people cleared the room before the headliner Talib Kweli even entered the stage, as the temperature rose well past 100 degrees. Yet Kweli, with his predictably smooth rhymes and easy backbeats, managed to pull off a compelling show despite the elements and those who stayed were lyrically impressed.
Even before the heat neared unbearable, the evening began on a disorganized note. There was no defined MC, which made for extended breaks (with only mediocre spinning) between openers. The up-and-coming Phoenix-based artist Grime began the show with an awkward call-and-response that had the audience yelling “Guerilla!” “Guerilla!” (or was it “Gorilla?”). Diabolic and Immortal Technique, two socio-politically conscious artists from New York, turned things around and got the room hyped with their inciting and polished rhymes.
Kweli finally entered unceremoniously, with the trademark low hat covering his eyes, and began with the party-starting “Move Somethin’” from Reflection Eternal. The screen behind him changed album covers with each new set, bringing a bit more form and style to the show that had earlier seemed in disarray. Kweli’s flawless lyrics and nonchalant presence were consistent throughout, from the djembe drumbeats of Reflection Eternal’s “Africa Dream” to the more flashy mainstream-appealing tracks, such as “A Game” from The Beautiful Struggle. His performance of Black Star’s ‘RE: DEFinition" was a necessary throwback, though inevitably unfulfilling without Mos Def’s complimentary flow. “Get By,” from Quality, was clearly the crowd pleaser of the evening, as the waning audience could still be heard singing the hook (“Just to get by, just to get by. . . “) above Kweli.
Those who sweated it out were rewarded with a few samples from Kweli’s much-awaited new album Eardrum, which was released on August 21. “More or Less,” a thought-provoking track produced by Hi-Tek that calls for “less talking, more change” and “more accountability for politicians before we yell ‘let’s vote!’” made for a hard-hitting encore.
While the venue left much to be desired, it was refreshing to see an interest in socially aware rhyme make its way to Phoenix, and riveting, as always, to see a performance by the innovative emcee who is quickly establishing himself as an essential pillar in the world of hip hop.