Reunions of music groups can be tricky propositions. Some are clearly money grabs, while others are genuine. Classify Reflection Eternal's as the latter.
Reflection Eternal, the groundbreaking duo of rapper Talib Kweli and producer Hi-Tek, collaborated on late 1990s singles and on the 1998 Black Star album with Mos Def before releasing their eponymous landmark album in 2000. Since then, Talib Kweli has established himself as one of rap's premier acts, delivering stunning, uplifting singles like "Get By" and acclaimed, well-rounded and thought-provoking albums like 2007's Eardrum. 50 Cent has named Kweli as one of his favorite rappers and he's also been famously name-dropped in Jay-Z's rhymes. At the same time, Hi-Tek has become one of rap's go-to producers, working extensively with Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, 50 Cent, G-Unit, The Game and Ghostface Killah, among others.
Now, after working with one another on each other's solo material, Reflection Eternal has reunited for its second stellar sonic offering, Revolutions Per Minute.
Kweli's disparate song concepts and wide emotional range are all seamlessly tied together by Hi-Tek's exquisite production. His deft command of the sonic spectrum allows Hi-Tek to be in sync with any of Kweli's moods or topics. "With producing a whole album, you have to sound like you're three producers, at least," Hi-Tek says. "When I produce an album, I'm Kanye, Dre, Timbaland and Primo, all in one. You've got to try to not be monotonous and at the same time keep the same vibe for the album."
It's a vibe that Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek have been developing since they met mid-1990s. Kweli was drawn to the musicality, tone and muscularity of Hi-Tek's beats, while Hi-Tek was impressed by the quality of Talib Kweli's material.
Though they came from two different worlds -- Kweli the fast-paced world of Brooklyn and Hi-Tek the streets of Cincinnati -- they were able to form an instant connection because of their love and passion for music, listening to it, studying it and making it. They started recording songs and would take turns in each other's city. Kweli benefited from being in Cincinnati because he always had a studio in which to record. Hi-Tek's trips to New York paid off for other reasons.
"If it wasn't for Kweli dragging me around New York and bigging me up on every song he did, people really wouldn't know who I was," Hi-Tek says today. "He made it a point to say my name on the tracks and that really helped out a lot. Being that the tracks were coming hard and for him to say who did them, it really helped me out."
More than a decade after their first collaborations, Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek are each among the most respected in their respective crafts. Kweli is a torchbearer for those craving commercially viable music that matters, while Hi-Tek has been able to deliver impeccable work that ranges from bombastic beats for the most progressive backpack rappers to bone-crushing soundbeds for the gruffest gangster rappers.
But it's their work together as Reflection Eternal that may ultimately define the legacies of both Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek. And that's a great thing given the exemplary work both of these masters display on Revolutions Per Minute, a continuation of Grade A musicality.
"My music is music that is often categorized as conscious or revolutionary or political," Kweli says. "But at the same the time, I strive for -- and I think Hi-Tek does as well -- entertainment value and musicality, to make you feel good when you hear the music. I think it was important for us to convey that energy, which is a revolutionary energy, and to keep it in musical terms."
It's a revolution indeed, and the more Revolutions Per Minute the better.