TALIB Kweli has been making insightful, politically minded hip hop for over 20 years now. He’s worked with icons including Kanye West, Just Blaze and Pharrell Williams, formed half of the renowned group Black Star and toured the world.

Kweli has been known to support upcoming artists and the two supporting artists he chose for this date represent some of the best of Manchester’s underground hip hop scene, J. Chambers and Free Wize Men.

Chambers is first up; mixing cutting, political lyrical acrobatics with soul samples, acoustic guitars and rattling drums  he makes vital, important music.

The best moment of Chambers set comes with his track “Black Friday” and it’s infectious call-and-response chorus. The bespectacled rapper gets the small crowd shouting his words back at them with ease, whilst never missing a bar of any of his complex verses himself.

Next up is the collective Free Wize Men. The three lads – Afro Sam, Blind MIC and Kay Bey – all of have distinctively different flows and voices. Added to this, each of the rappers cut a distinctive image on stage and use the space available to them well, stalking the stage with authority.

Again, there’s no mumble rap or lazy flows in play here. The three emcees boast some of their best bars on new track “Is Ya With Me” a groovy track rich with a variety of percussion and woozy melodies.

After Free Wize Men finish up, there’s a short break before Talib enters the stage. The sold out room is bustling as he arrives, everyone trying to get as close as possible to the legendary emcee.

Clad in a Manchester United baseball cap, he performs a variety of songs from his long career, spanning both his solo career and his tracks with Black Star.

Behind the charismatic rapper is a screen showing projections of music videos, lyrics and other graphics that make the stage show feel grander than the 340 size venue would first appear.

The standouts include cuts from The Beautiful Struggle and Right About Now albums, including “Never Been In Love” which manages to speak about love without feeling schmaltzy.

Between songs, Kweli speaks on racial politics, oppression and the positive powers of love and hip hop. He shows love to the diverse crowd assembled in Manchester before bursting into more cutting rhymes.

The emcee also shows off his freestyling skills with a few short acapella segments in which he references the city he’s performing in.

Kweli takes the crowd on a tour of his musical inspirations as he introduces the Beatles-sampling “Lonely People” before letting his DJ “start the after party during the concert,” by dropping Sister Nancy’s groovy Bam Bam and several other classic dancehall and reggae tunes, including Bob Marley cuts that get the whole crowd moving.

The Brooklyn rapper leaves the stage shortly after, returning after the venues curfew of 11PM for a whirlwind encore, performing his verse on Kanye West’s “Get Em High” and his biggest hit, the Nina Simone sampling, feel good banger “Get By.”

By the end of Talib Kweli’s set, the crowd leaves the venue feeling more positive, inspired and alive than they entered, a mark of a great show.

By Will Stevenson
@willreviews

One Comment

  1. The track you mention – “Lonely People” – is Eleanor Rigby.

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