Two years after releasing the classic Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star album (which I reviewed here) with, um, Mos Def, Talib Kweli teamed up with my all-time favorite producer, Hi-Tek, to form the group Reflection Eternal and release Train of Thought, an album that I actually consider to better than Kweli's effort as a member of Black Star.
Train of Thought is extremely similar in sound to Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star, and that is to be expected given that Hi-Tek did plenty of production on Black Star's project. However, I feel that, due to the fact that Talib had grown as a rapper during that two-year hiatus, the Reflection Eternal record is legitimately superior. I realize that may be seen as blasphemy in many circles, but what can I say? It's my opinion.
Train of Thought is easily one of the most deep and soulful hip-hop albums you will ever have the pleasure of hearing, containing unbelievably mellow production and incredible rapping from Talib Kweli and the numerous guest artists that make appearances on the record. It is also one of the first rap albums I had ever heard in its entirety, so maybe that's why I am a bit biased toward it.
The album spans 20 tracks, although only 15 of those are full-length songs. Still, even the the shorter cuts sound so good that they will manage to find a place in this review, as Train of Thought is so flawless that depriving it of any of its parts would be a travesty in the truest sense of the word.
With that said, here is the lovefest that is my review of Reflection Eternal's debut album.
1. Experience Dedication
This is an album intro, but it runs for nearly two-and-a-half minutes and Hi-Tek's beat is so effective that I felt I just had to review it. Basically, "Experience Dedication" just consists of Talib Kweli prepping you for the album, and if the instrumental here is any indication, you should be ready for a classic.
2. Move Somethin'
The first actual song on Train of Thought was also the album's first single, and with good reason, because it is a banger, as Hi-Tek's production is extremely hard-hitting, and Talib sounds fantastic over it. I can guarantee you that you will be nodding your head to the beat the minute it hits.
3. Some Kind Of Wonderful
Hi-Tek's production on this cut is much more relaxed than on the previous one, and it works well. I won't say this is one of my favorite songs off of the album or anything, as I feel the beat kind of overpowers Kweli's vocals, but "Some Kind Of Wonderful" is still fairly effective, nonetheless.
4. The Blast
Train of Thought's second single, and it is nothing short of incredible. "The Blast" contains what is easily the album's most soulful production so far, as Hi-Tek's instrumental will undoubtedly make you stop and think. Hi-Tek also raps on this, too, and damn...he actually sounds pretty damn good. As a matter of fact, his verse was actually better than Talib Kweli's. Yeah; I went there. To top everything off, Vinia Mojica's vocals toward the end of the record really make it that much better. This is one of my favorite songs of all-time.
5. This Means You
Hi-Tek lays out another sick beat for Talib, and Mos Def stops by to aid his Black Star partner on the track. Both artists kill this, as the instrumental couldn't have been any more suitable for the two emcees. The best part of "This Means You," though, is how the instrumental changes during the hook.
6. Too Late
My goodness...Hi-Tek did it again. His production on "Too Late" is unreal, consisting of a constant vocal sample (one that actually has a middle-eastern flavor) and some ill drums on top of it. Talib Kweli's subject matter is pretty tried, as he questions whether or not it's too late to save hip-hop, but nevertheless, this record is just great. One of the best songs on Train of Thought.
7. Memories Live
And the ridiculously good tracks keep coming. "Memories Live" is a popular choice for best track off of the album (it isn't my personal favorite, but it's certainly up there), as Hi-Tek's thought-provoking instrumental makes the song's title seem that much more meaningful. Talib rips off three outstanding verses on this cut, as he sounds spectacularly inspired on the mic. What a record.
8. Africa Dream
"Africa Dream" is a weird track, as it begins with a drum-driven instrumental for the first one minute and forty seconds, and then the beat changes into something of a banger and Talib Kweli kills it for the next minute. Then, the remainder of the song, which covers a minute-and-a-half, consists of the same beat that Kweli spit over. All of that said, this sounded really good. I just wish Talib would have utilized Hi-Tek's production more and rapped more than just one quick verse.
9. Down For The Count
That brings us to the best track on the album. The effing best. Hi-Tek's beat is nails, and Talib Kweli and guest artists Rah Digga and Xzibit absolutely murder it. Of those three rappers, though, Xzibit drops the best verse. I mean, how raw is this line: "Hardcore, 'til somebody put me under the ground, with a dick in your ear, still couldn't fuck with my sound." On another note, it's impossible for me to listen to "Down For The Count" without thinking of Madden 2002, because I remember that the instrumental was on the game's soundtrack.
10. Name Of The Game
This record is under two minutes long, but it is an actual song. Hi-Tek's instrumental is magnificent in every sense of the word, and Talib's delivery over it is just terrific.
11. Ghetto Afterlife
"Ghetto Afterlife" is the first song on Train of Thought that I'm going to give a "meh" to. The beat just sounds sloppy, and not even a Kool G Rap feature can save it.
12. On My Way
This is just an instrumental with some vocals from Kendra Ross, Tiye Phoenix, and Vinia Mojica, and it clocks one minute and nine seconds. Why am I reviewing it then, you ask? Because Hi-Tek's production is so damn smooth that you will want to replay "On My Way" over and over.
13. Love Language
I love this. As per the title, Kweli raps about finding your significant other over an incredibly soulful beat by Hi-Tek, and the French female R&B duo Les Nubians aids Talib by crooning the hook (in French). There aren't many hip-hop songs you can seriously share and enjoy with your girl, but "Love Language" is one of the few. Talib Kweli's "some don't love themselves, so their perception is tainted" line really hits home, too.
14. Love Speakeasy
"Love Speakeasy" is just an instrumental. No raps, no adlibs; nothing but a jazzy, introspective beat by Hi-Tek that "Love Language" leads perfectly into.
15. Soul Rebels
De La Soul makes a feature on "Soul Rebels," a jazzy number that Talib and the aforementioned legendary group rip to shreds. Hi-Tek's instrumental sounds like a much better version of "Ghetto Afterlife." Songs like this make me wonder why Kweli and De La Soul haven't done more collaborations.
Yet another tremendous cut. What's most impressive about "Eternalists" is Talib Kweli's flawless flow, as he rides Hi-Tek's sick production without skipping a beat. I hate the fact that I'm running out of things to say as Train of Thought draws to a close, but because I pretty much love every song equally on here, what else is there to remark on?
17. Big Del From Da Natti
This cut is only a minute and fifteen seconds long and Talib isn't even on this (Big Del drops a very short verse, and that's it), but, much like "On My Way," Hi-Tek's beat will force you to enjoy it.
18. Touch You
The beat on this will put you in a zone, and Kweli obliges with a great performance. Piakhan and Supa Dave West make guest appearances on this, as Piakhan drops a verse and Supa Dave West sings the hook. That's really all I have to say.
19. Good Mourning
"Good Mourning" represents one of Talib Kweli's most impressive lyrical forays, and his subject matter is so deep that I'm not even going to try to explain it. If this doesn't make you stop and think, then I don't know what will. Hi-Tek's somber beat fits the mood perfectly.
20. Expansion Outro
Hi-Tek's instrumental on this is phenomenal, and Talib drops a few great verses about the pain and strife that women must go through, telling the stories of four different females (which is way Kweli references the track "Four Women" by Nina Simone at the beginning). The only negative about "Expansion Outro" is that it's eight minutes long, and I don't have the patience to put an eight-minute song on repeat.
In my mind, Train of Thought is, without a doubt, one of the best hip-hop albums of all-time. I love almost every track on the record, as Talib Kweli's incredible rapping backed by Hi-Tek's extraordinary producing ability makes the project a ridiculously consistent listen from start-to-finish.
What's best about Train of Thought is that there is no filler, as even the short songs (and I generally don't like short songs because I have always felt that they're sort of pointless) have their place. The choice of features was also great, as each guest artist (especially Xzibit on "Down For The Count") comes through with admirable performances on their respective tracks.
It is absolutely amazing that an album can be 20 cuts long and remain this steady throughout. The fact that there is nary a dull moment on Train of Thought is a testament to how outstanding of a producer Hi-Tek is and how engaging of a rapper Talib Kweli is. The two artists complement each other to a T.
The preceding paragraph is precisely the reason why I feel that Reflection Eternal's debut record is better than that of Black Star's. Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star was only 13 tracks in length, and while nearly every one of those tracks were terrific, Train of Thought had seven more, and not one of its 20 records felt forced (except for maybe "Ghetto Afterlife").
Talib Kweli established himself as one of the game's most talented rappers on Train of Thought, and Hi-Tek did the same as a producer. This album will always be one of my favorites.
TOP FIVE TRACKS
1. Down For The Count
2. The Blast
3. Too Late
4. Memories Live
5. This Means You