By RYAN MARR
When Talib Kweli missed a headlining slot at University at Minnesota last April because of a flight delay, over 500 inebriated college students took to the streets to light fires, smash cars, and generally resort to primitive forms of mass destruction. So, naturally, I was a tad disappointed last Saturday night when the hip-hop legend actually showed up to play Giant’s Homecoming Extravaganza and was greeted by a seated, barely-filled audience in Dodd. Did I forget to mention that the concert was free?
For some absurd reason, the campus excitement barometer for Talib Kweli, who might just be one of the greatest names in live hip-hop, registered somewhere between an Underground dance-party and sheer apathy. Blame the lack of publicity, the school’s racial demographics or the weather, but those who chose to stay in the comfort of their dorm room missed out on one helluva show.
Unlike 2008’s Spring Concert Series performer Lupe Fiasco and other radio-friendly rappers, Kweli consistently eschews choruses for never-ending verses that highlight his hyper-enunciated Gatlin-gun flow. Backed by the beat-work of DJ Chaps, Kweli worked the crowd with the poise of a seasoned vet and the energy of a caged animal. Word must have gotten out, too, because only two songs deep into the set, students were crammed into the second floor of Dodd, hands in the air, thumping to the beat like a moving canopy.
Before long, Kweli was inviting students onstage to break-dance, which led to three audience members taking the stage during various songs only to be quickly escorted off by Kweli. “That’s got to be the silliest beat-boying I’ve ever seen,” Kweli joked. “You’re going to hurt yourself, and these cops are going to sue me.”
Covering everything from his earliest days in Reflection Eternal to Kweli classics like “Get By” and “We Got the Beat” to even newer, unreleased material, Kweli never failed to impress, whether it be free-styling about “Mary f***** Washington” or cat-walking over even the trickiest Madlib beats with his trademark staccato flow. By continually inciting the crowd to throw up their hands to the beat, Kweli created a relentless, albeit malodorous energy that kept the crowd bouncing throughout his rather brief one-hour set.
The crowd favorite though was easily “Get ‘Em High,” a Kweli guest-spot off Kanye West’s 2004 album, “The College Dropout,” that few audience members, including freshman Giant staff member Charlie Lex, expected to hear. While driving Kweli to Richmond the morning after the show with Giant Senior Co-Chair Claire Copps, Lex told Kweli that he had bet his roomate Kweli wouldn’t play “Get ‘Em High.”
“Aww that was a sucka’s bet,” Kweli said, laughing. “I always do that song.”
The only widespread complaint was directed towards the rainy weather, which caused the show to be moved from the Rugby Field to Dodd Auditorium. Granted, an outdoor venue would have been slightly more conducive to shameless grinding and drunken tomfoolery, but it’s hard to gripe about witnessing a hip-hop legend at the top of their game, indoors or outdoors. Especially when it’s free.