Nostalgia is our best friend, and our worst enemy. On the one hand, nostalgia glosses over the past, smoothing away the rough edges and leaving only a polished sheen. But the same nostalgia that so brilliantly brightens yesterday also darkens today. Of course, the unwavering reality of the present, no matter how incredible, can’t compare with the perfect dream that nostalgia has molded the past into, and so we move through the world so busy thinking “It was better then…” that we overlook the joys of the present until, ironically, nostalgia once again grips us …
DJBooth Album Review
No album provokes in me a stronger sense of nostalgia then Reflection Eternal’s classic debut album Train of Thought. It was 2000 when the duo dropped their classic album and Talib Kweli’s complex yet high-caliber rhymes and Hi-Tek’s deeply layered beats served as the soundtrack to the last of my high school days, a time when I fell so deeply in love with hip-hop that I vowed to make the culture the core of my adult life (mission accomplished). It’s the type of relationship we have with precious few albums, if we’re lucky, and I have it with Train of Thought.
Although Kweli and Tek continued to work together on occasion for the next decade it looked as if Reflection Eternal would become the Ralph Ellison of hip-hop, releasing one classic work and then never another…until now. This week, Reflection Eternal became the oldest sophomores in hip-hop history with their latest effort Revolutions Per Minute, an album that in many ways is probably better than Train of Thought, but nostalgia frustratingly won’t let me love nearly as much.
Train of Thought contained a brand of aggressively and organically intelligent hip-hop that we’d never heard before, and thankfully those same core qualities pervade Revolutions Per Minute. When Just Begun first dropped my fellow hip-hop heads went pistachios, and for good reason. Leaning on his jazz roots, Tek crafts an ice-smooth beat that serves as a musical bridge between generations of dope emcees; Kweli and Mos Def, meet Jay Electronica and J. Cole. On Reflection’s second single In This World Tek creates one of the bravest beats of his career, daring to combine a collection of soulful samples with militaristically pounding percussion. A lesser emcee would have smothered This World, but Kweli is confident enough to let the beat breathe, and the result is some of the more adventurous hip-hop we’ve heard in a minute. It’s a similar story on City Playgrounds, In the Red and Back Again, all tracks that seamlessly combine Tek’s sense of restraint with Kweli’s verbose rhyme style to dope effect. Like Jordan in ’98, Reflection Eternal can no longer rely on the sheer athleticism of their glory days, but what they’ve lost in youthful energy they’ve more than made up for in experience and skill. Come on, you really thought I could go an entire review without a sports metaphor?
Nowhere is Kweli and Tek’s development as artists more evident than in the album’s lighter tracks. Although their younger selves might have worried about “selling out”, an older and wiser Reflection Eternal understand it’s completely possible to entertain without compromising quality. Just take the duo’s most radio ready track ever Midnight Hour, a cut I originally balked at but grew to appreciate, largely because of Kweli’s dynamic vocal performance. Similarly, while seeing Chester French listed as guest artists made me nervous, I couldn’t help but nod my head to the bouncing Get Loose, and Long Hot Summer is like a far sultrier version of Brown Skin Lady (sorry, that was my nostalgia for another classic Kweli-affiliated album creeping in). If Reflection Eternal succeeds in sparking the revolution, it will be a revolution you can dance to.
I’ve listened to Revolutions Per Minute for days straight now, and I honestly can’t point out a single significant flaw. Paranoid? That stuttering hook’s weird, but it’s dope. So Good? Heavily electronic, but dope. Ballad of the Black Gold? Deeper than an oil pipe on the bottom of the ocean. And yet, I can’t bring myself to truly love it, and I’m afraid nostalgia is the reason. I’ve been bumping this album with my newborn daughter in my arms, so maybe in five years I’ll look back on it with the same love and longing I have for Train of Thought, but until that day comes, Revolutions Per Minute will remain the other Reflection Eternal album.
Listen to More: Reflection Eternal Written by Nathan S.
Blacksmith Records/Warner Bros.
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