Reflection Eternal – Revolutions Per Minute
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Ten years after the release of the critically acclaimed and soundtrack to Madden 2002 Train of Thought, Talib Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek are back together again as Reflection Eternal for Revolutions Per Minute, a title that partially serves as a nod to Talib’s ability to get political on a track. Hi-Tek again handles all the production and has created a smooth, aesthetically pleasing sound that doesn’t get too fancy or complicated while Talib uses these backdrops to display the flawless chemistry that he’s created with Hi-Tek. Although it’s been an entire decade since the rap world first saw Reflection Eternal, Talib and Hi-Tek don’t show any rust between them.
Revolutions Per Minute marks the end of a three-year period during which neither Talib nor Hi-Tek released much new material. Since then, there’s been a lot of things going down in the world for Talib to address, specifically on “Ballad of the Black Gold” and “Strangers (Paranoid)” where he assesses the current political climate and the shady dealings and global conflict related to the oil industry. And while Talib excels at being political, he doesn’t overdo it to the point that the message overshadows the overall laid-back vibe that Hi-Tek’s production creates. Instead, he keeps it to a few songs while using the rest of the album’s tracks to showcase his lyricism, like in the posse cut “Just Begun” with Black Star teammate Mos Def and two of the more talented young cats in the game, the similarly revolutionary-minded Jay Electronica and Jay-Z’s talented protégé J. Cole. Talib also has a little fun with the ladies on the Estelle-assisted “Midnight Hour” and hooks up the stoners on “Lifting Off” and “Long Hot Summer”.
Hi-Tek keeps to a mostly minimalist sound throughout the album, which is something that he does best, with proof lying in classics like “The Blast” and “Ol’ English”. With smoother, simpler-sounding beats, Hi-Tek creates a comfortable atmosphere for the listener. While songs like “Midnight Hour” are high-energy, they are rare. Instead, songs like “Just Begun”, “So Good” and “City Playgrounds” are examples of the album’s overall feel and high points: hot lines (favorites include “When I’m left to my devices, time gets suspended more than DMX’s driver’s license”) delivered over easy grooves, similar to the winning formula from Train of Thought. There are no hard-hitting, in-your-face ghetto anthems made for the radio and the streets on this album. Rather, you’re more likely to find a new song to smoke and chill to. The album’s coherence is helped by the fact that only a few songs deviate from the album’s relaxed feeling, including “Paranoid” and “Midnight Hour”, both of which already stand out on their own merits. “Got Work (Fame)”, while well-written like the rest of the album, suffers from the beat and the lyrics both being a little too dark to fit in.
Talib and Hi-Tek are still making good music despite a decade apart by following the blueprint of success they created on Train of Thought. Revolutions Per Minute succeeds in capturing the spirit of their first album without making their album a direct and blatant sequel, unlike the growing trend in hip-hop to name your album “Classic Album From Your Discography + Roman numeral” and having your lead single called “Classic Song From Your Discography + Roman numeral.” As nice as “The Blast 2” sounds, letting the original stand on its own merits is a lot better than asking yourself, “The original was better than ‘The Blast 2’, why did they try to remake it?” Keeping the production in-house and not outsourcing it to the hot names ended up being one of the best things Hi-Tek could have done, as he kept this album together and the songs flowing. The album’s relaxed atmosphere presents a haven from the loud trap rappers on the radio, and is one of the strongest independent hip-hop releases of the year so far.