Review: Talib Kweli brings highs and lows to the Ritz Ybor in Tampa
As if the metal detecting wands and cigarette pack checks at the front door would deter a Mary Jane state of mind. The crowd at the Ritz Ybor on Friday managed to transform the venue into an aromatic hot box despite the fierce security. Together, the dreaded, the blinged, the buttoned-up and the ear lobe-stretched gathered densely to witness the combined forces of rappers Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek, a.k.a. Reflection Eternal.
An ecstatic electricity surged through the crowd when Kweli hit the stage in white sunglasses and a Yankees hat. So much so that no one really noticed that Hi-Tek was missing until after the first song when Kweli mentioned it (without reason), but still promised “a good time.” And it didn’t matter. As soon as Move Somethin’ started, shrugs turned into dancing and the show seemed in full force — until the song stopped abruptly halfway through and Kweli said, “We f---ed that up,” and moved on to new material, saying, “so we can get back to the classics.”
From then on, the show’s momentum was as high and low as the crowd, but Kweli managed to engage revelers with encouragement of “puff, puff, pass,” followed by an excerpt of the Kanye West collaboration Get 'Em High, in between his brisk stage pacing and hand-slapping of front row reach-outs.
Kweli’s spitfire pace (it felt Bone Thuggish for a moment) and sped-up renditions coupled with song brevity came out like he wanted to get it over with. In just over an hour, along with new tracks, samples, seeming love songs and stuff I couldn’t make out, Kweli packed in Revolutions Per Minute, In This World, I Try, The Blast and quintessential closer Get By.
The show didn’t end without the hip-hop staple of live mash-ups, mixing and sampling, where the crowd cheers and jeers at song recognition. Kweli’s set was no exception, with shout-outs to the ones who came before, including Apache, Gang Starr, J Dilla and Nina Simone.
Admittedly, the bass was too much. Feeling your ear lobes vibrate tends to supersede all sound, lyrics and thought. At least there were visuals. Behind the fill-in DJ was a projection screen with alternating music videos, movie snippets and images.
Between the chunky energy and overtly smoker-centric attendees, it all just felt half-baked. Reflection Eternal is held in higher hip hop regard due to the intellectual lyricism and sociopolitical content devoid in other mainstream acts, but the performance came off a bit juvenile and somewhat counterproductive to the persona Kweli and Hi-Tek put out. Maybe things would have felt different with Hi-Tek there. Maybe not.
-- Stephanie Bolling, tbt*. Photo (from 2001, not Friday's show): Getty Images.