Reflection Eternal Reflection EternalRevolutions Per Minute
In the eight years that separate the first album from Reflection Eternal, the project of Talib Kweli and producer Hi-Tek, from their new offering “Revolutions per Minute”, you could say that almost the entire discourse and artistic proposal of both members has changed, especially the vision and idea that they had and have of hip hop, notoriously different and evolved over the course of the decade that has passed. The rapper has stayed afloat, sure and comfortable, with an intermediate status that’s neither mainstream nor underground thanks to a couple of albums that followed the excellent “Quality”, put out a few months after “Reflection Eternal”. These earnestly pursued an idea of total hip hop, a meeting point for efficient singles, circumstantial concessions, a soulful essence, conscious lyrics, and some nods to the street. His sound has been commercialised over time, opening its aesthetic and melodic and rhythmic palette to the trends that have reigned since then, and putting aside the more orthodox aspect of its beginnings (recovered on his joint album with Madlib, which is more anecdotic than shaking things up) to focus on a more conciliating concept. His ability to not cross certain lines or tread too heavily within crossover territory has allowed him to maintain the respect of a good part of his followers, especially because his expansive work has always been carried out with taste, criteria, tact, and coherence, especially on “The Beautiful Struggle”.
Hi-Tek, on his part, might be said to have matured even further. If we compare the songs that he gave the Rawkus catalogue during the label’s golden age -or even his collaborations with Mood -with any part of “Hi-Teknology”, especially the third part, we can quickly see the reformulation of his own expressive patterns. His experimentation and growth have coincided with the adoption of a more melodic, eclectic and universal sound. It is clear, then, that neither partners are the same as in 2002 and naturally it follows that the return of Reflection Eternal could not follow in any logical footprints left by its predecessor. It wouldn’t have made much sense to recreate the present, especially because neither of them feels close to or linked to that past anymore. This is not a meeting of two old friends who take up a path together to recreate their experiences, recall old skirmishes, and end up with conclusion that the good old days were better; but rather, to catch up with each other and shoo away the ghost of nostalgia or any excess cushiness life has accumulated. And that idea, which I see as brave, logical, and totally necessary, ends up becoming both a virtue and a problem at the same time.
Among the virtues of this flight ahead, the maturity of the songs stands out. They achieve an adult essence, and the low-speed sound puts on the brakes, softens the forms, and adds warmth and sensuality to their game. It proposes something different, establishing firm, melodic connections with nu soul and, in general terms, with a downtempo intensity that corresponds to the nearly nine years of distance between the last album and this one. Kweli has barely changed his plot lines: they’re still focused on politics, urban emotion, and a textbook “conscious” attitude, although his lyrics continue to show signs of growth and development, polishing the moments of greater thematic ambition well, and lessening their own halo of transcendence at more relaxed times. The duo have also rounded out the project with splendid collaborations by Bun B, Jay Electronica, J. Cole, Mos Def, Estelle or Bilal amongst others, confirming the good criteria and taste with which both have always chosen their allies. In reality, there are few objections to be made. In general terms, “Revolutions per Minute” is a good album, more accessible than commercial, more stylised than refined, more sexy than metrosexual, and it definitely works better as a reflection of what both artists wanted and have managed to become with the passing of time than as a reunion between two people well-suited to each other in the studio who left a historical joint debut behind. And this is effectively the main problem with this comeback.
The problem is that being compared with its predecessor doesn’t help or benefit the album. “Revolutions per Minute” is not as good an album as the first and we more or less knew that it would be that way and expected it. The difficulty is that the couple has lost intensity, ambition and dynamism in their creative and expressive interaction. They are no longer two young cats with a voracious hunger who turn themselves inside out to bring out each album; their lives don’t depend on it, and this glow, which seemed to multiply when they worked together, is overshadowed by an attitude that is more laid back and relaxed, influencing some passages along the way. The album has several rather boring anticlimactic phases that keep it from being excellent, or even highly notable, and which contrast with the great achievements -which are also there- of a return that (despite these details) fulfils its mission entirely and without difficulties: the faithful, honest display, with its pros and cons, of what Reflection Eternal is in the middle of 2010.