Published on January 8th, 2014 | by Boman12l0
Quality Intros Kweli
For the last few days, I’ve been listening to Talib Kweil’s new album, Gravitas. You can check out my full thoughts here, but to give a short rundown: overall it’s a good album, but it shares a lot of things in common with precious Kweli releases. Something I did not touch on in the review, but still wanted to expand on further here was the album’s intro track and how in general, Kweli’s intros have the ability to set the tone for his projects.
The album begins with a sample of Neil Gaiman, whose cadence is comforting and words wise. He tells us that everyone, no matter the discipline, as the possibility to create art. Before long, Kweli shoots off a short verse that displays his dexterity, lyricality, history and intelligence — the core themes and concepts of Gravitas. Gaiman returns, as the song closes picking up right where he left off. He notes the rules of distribution are changing everywhere and that artists should take advantage of this fact. It’s relatively short, but what makes it amazing is how the song is speaking directly about the album. “Inner Monologue” perfectly captures the essence of Gravitas and more than gets listeners ready for the tracks that follow. Kweli excels at doing this.
While there is no science to this or a definitive theory like Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey or Syd Field’s structural Paradigm, that states “this is how one should put together an album,” there is no denying that the first few tracks of an album are among the most important. We bring our own expectations to an album the first time we hear it. Those first few tracks go a long way of setting perceptions and how we view the rest of an album. A strong opening like Nas’ Untitled can make subsequent tracks feel lesser or out of place on an album. However, weak openings can otherwise distract from an overall strong project like 50’s The Massacre. This has never been a problem for Kweli, who always seems to find the right balance that warms up listeners and entices them for more.
Kweli, who has done dozens of albums, has never had a weak opening or produced an intro that did not represent the music it preceded. His intros always seem to embody the project at hand. How does he do this? By using a relatively simple formula, that mixes in different elements that he frequently pulls from. Kweli is guaranteed to start things off right.
Firstly, most of his intros literally introduce listeners to Kweli the person, or Kweli the artist. Look at the intro for Quality, it’s a story told by Dave Chappelle about the two of them meeting another traveler on the road. Chappelle’s humorous retelling of the encounter is what most will remember, but think about Dave is actually doing. He is introducing Kweli to us. He supplies a funny insight that only he would know, then proceeds to list off Kweli’s qualifications to us. “Right about Now” from the Sucka Free Mix CD does a similar thing, but this time it’s Kweli himself, giving us his own background – in exquisite detail. He takes us from his times showing up at different lyricist lounges around NYC and to starting Blacksmith Music in 2005. Be it a skit, or a showcase of Kweli’s lyrical prowess, each of his intros normally contains some autobiographical element to them.
Next to introducing himself, most of the tracks tell us something about the album we are about hear. “The Show”, the first track Liberation, Kweli says “This exercise of freedom is call the Liberation” this speaks directly to how Liberation was released and the resulting unrestricted nature of the collaboration because of that. “Going Hard” personifies it’s album title Beautiful Struggle in its production, a joyous opening, that become more militant. His latest “Inner Monologue” speaks to the changing of distribution. These changes are directly responsible for Gravitas’ business model. Most of time when Kweli is speaking to listeners on his intros, he’s giving us some insight into the mentality behind the album.
Others are more reflective. “RPM’s” isn’t just some hokey retro style infomercial. It’s contrasting the new from the old. A lot of things have change since the last time Kweli and Hi-Tek got together. The way people experience and buy music are completely different “RPMs” points this out, while playing with the album’s title. Perhaps the best example of this reflection would be “Everthing Man” from Ear Drum. What is interesting here is the song begins with an answer to and the not the actual question. It’s easy to figure out what that question is but still a clever way to getting listeners reflecting on their own past relationship with Kweli.
Kweli also like to keep it fun. “Experience Dedication” and “After the Rain” from Train of Thought and Gutter Rainbows respectively are filled with lighthearted humor and cameos from many of Kweli’s friends that get things hyped.
Kweli’s been doing this for a while, yes he’s a dope lyricist, but often we don’t give enough credit to the nuances also. Go back and take a listen to Kweli’s intros. Notice all the elements they have in common and how they speak about the album they are introducing. Regretless of how the overall album might turn out, Kweli always has the best intros.