Reflection Eternal – Train of Thought

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Some great lines, in order of when they came:

~”In the mental, pick any mental – instru, funda, detri
Extra extra large like the borough of Brooklyn the residential
Existentialist specialist”

~”Erase your trace like your cotton mouth and we peppermint altoids”

~”If you want it, I got it, come get it, I’m with it
Your career will be shorter than a midget
And the world will know who did it”

~”Get your hands up like a hijack!”

~Sometimes it’s far and between, I’m sad to say
It got my mind crowded like a sunset on Saturday”

~”I am the world renowned, verb adjective adverb
Pronoun preposition suffix prefix
Original or remix
Sunburst and eclipse
Me and Kwe’ combine like strands on a double-helix”

~“Wave running on beaches with white sand
With a slight tan
Smack the mic stand with my right hand”

~“Tracks that make you relax and recline
Now cats rap about packing a nine
When they lacking divine
Inspiration”

~”Since back when they had potty issues and snotty tissues we been rocking”

~”Looking for the perfect girl
And now you found her
Started with romantic, then got to frantic
Then things that’s normally small become gigantic
Now y’all sinking like the Titanic, here come the panic
Being with you like a habit without you I can’t stand it
It’s tragic when you wonder when you lost that magic
Without understanding that you never had it try to grab it”

~”My name up in your mouth like fellatio
I lace thet flow on purpose even up the ratio
Of hip-hop to that shit they drop on the radio
Underground classics is what they used to say before
Now we break the surface, quiet like an alligator nose”

~”Battling the tragedies and fallacies
That be killing niggas quicker than infant mortality
They acting like what’s going on now is distant reality
Behaving so casually that they become a casualty”

~” She swear the next baby she have will breathe a free breath
And get milk from a free breast and love being alive
Otherwise they’ll have to give up being themself to survive”

—– —– —– —– —–

If those don’t make a strong enough case for Train of Thought, you might as well just stop reading and not bother listening.

I’m not going to sugar-coat it: this is an album that’s requires active participation from its listeners; you can’t just throw it on as background music because you’re going to miss Talib Kweli’s literary devices (well, this is true of most anything Kweli-related). He has a style that’s hard-to-love. He does have sometimes awkward flow: though it reads fine, the way he breaks up the word “existentialist” to make an internal rhyme with the preceding line on the second verse of “Move Something” is really unnatural. Meanwhile, “Just let it be like Nina Simone” from “The Blast” is missing one syllable (“Let It Be Me”) to make sense. And while I’m on the lyrical negatives, “She had … long dreads that peeked out the back / Like antenna to help her to get a sense of where she was at” is not a good simile. And he is sometimes really preachy (especially problematic considering his solution to the world’s problems is a joint…and that’s not a solution). Add to this the fact that Train of Thought is fifteen minutes longer than Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star and we have a much more difficult listen (though it’s hard to figure out what to cut besides pump-up intro “Experience Dedication” … I guess “Something in the Way” if only because Madlib absorbs the one-note twinkle of the beat fully and puts it to better use on Madvillainy’s “Figaro”). Conversely, when he’s on, he’s on, and his preachy-ness never sinks to, say, the lows of “Rock n Roll” from Mos Def’s debut the previous year. In other words, for better or for worse, the title of the album is too on-point.

But it helps that Hi-Tek – the other half of Reflection Eternal – supplies a ton of good beats for him to rap over; in particular, check out the five-block stretch from “The Blast” through “Africa Dream.” It was such a wonderful idea to bake Vinia Mojica’s contributing cadences into the first verse that I’m baffled more people haven’t followed in its footsteps and capitalized on such an easy idea that effortlessly makes a decent verse into one of the catchiest you’ve ever heard (Hi-Tek’s verse on the same song is surprisingly better from a lyrical perspective, “From the beginning I stayed advanced / A young chameleon, adapt to any circumstance,” but it doesn’t sound as good). Afterwards, there’s the triumphant Black Star reunion of “This Means You,” where Mos Def rhymes the “prefix” with the unlikely rhymes of “remix” and “eclipse” and “helix” (see above). Also, dig the way Mos Def jumps on Talib Kweli’s “Or just V.I. to handle my B.I.” with “Yo Talib, I agree I, was thinking the same thing myself.” Elsewhere, “Too Late” is just lovely, all airy vocals supplied by Res over supple percussion. Ditto the first minute of “Africa Dream,” opening with rhythms that earn the title of the track before a jazzy trumpet enters and segues into the proper song. And both “The Blast” and “Memories Live” have rich bass lines, with the latter boosted by an indelible sample as its hook.

Not to say that there aren’t highlights on the second half: Talib Kweli describes the fall-in and falling out of a relationship with jaw-dropping accuracy on the first verse of “Love Language.” On the same song, Hi-Tek adds a saxophone sample that’s much more sensual than Les Nubians’ contribution, and the trilling guitar (/keyboard) sample that leads back into the verses is a beautiful sound. “Soul Rebels” (with De La Soul), the Eric B.-quoting “Eternalists” (mostly made out of punchlines, “check out the pictures we painted / More colorful than Kelis naked” and “they call your momma Roy Jones cause she raise chicken”) and “Good Mourning” aren’t particularly note-worthy highlights because of Kweli, but they are highlights because of Hi-Tek: “Soul Rebels” has the album’s funkiest beat, “Eternalists” has the album’s catchiest beat and “Good Mourning” is the album’s most sensual song. And hidden track “For Women” is the rarest of things: a hidden track that is actually better than a lot of the album’s “proper songs,” where Talib Kweli samples and spins his own interpretation of Nina Simone’s “Four Women.”

2000 was a really cool year for hip-hop where several classics were released from completely different corners of America: the violence of The Marshall Mathers LP counterbalanced by the future world created in Deltron 3030; the Wu-Tang Clan remaining relevant after a trough period between 1995 and then in Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele counterbalanced by OutKast blurring genre lines and pushing boundaries in Stankonia. And that’s without mentioning what’s probably Common’s best album in Like Water for Chocolatecounterbalanced by the zoned out Quasimoto’s The UnseenTrain of Thought’s Talib Kweli is a better rapper than Common or Quasimoto. He’s a rapper who demands just as much of your time as Ghostface Killah. He’s a rapper who doesn’t think homophobia or misogyny are funny topics like Eminem does. He’s a rapper who makes more sensethan Del on Deltron 3030 and though he’s assuredly not on Andre 3000’s level, Train of Thought has a better killer-filler ratio than OutKast’s album that same year. In other words, Train of Thought is the best hip-hop album of 2000. And considering I’ve outgrown the cold, calculated and clinical world of Kid A

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One response to “Reflection Eternal – Train of Thought

  1. Pingback: Talib Kweli – Quality | Free City Sounds·

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