The synergy between DJ and emcee can be a truly sublime combination when both parties bring their A-game. It’s what made Run DMC, Gang Starr, Public Enemy and De La Soul such unstoppable forces in their day, though in 2010, it’s surprisingly rare to find a hip-hop combo that works as tightly as a unit, or even one that works together on a regular basis. The ever-evolving nature of hip-hop collaboration tends to create few partnerships with such fierce loyalty. And as such, Reflection Eternal, the duo of Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek, last recorded an album together way back in 2000, when they dropped the outstanding Train of Thought.
It’s taken ten years, but Kweli and Tek have finally delivered a follow-up, the fresh and upbeat sounding Revolutions Per Minute. While the duo has collaborated on individual tracks in the ten years between now and their prior effort, this is the first full-album of new material together, and it sounds almost as if no time has passed at all. Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek each bring to the table their respective talents, which are among the best in their field. After declaring, “you can like rap again/ you can say that again,” Kweli lets loose a lightning speed verse over a bed of soulful samples courtesy of Hi-Tek on the outstanding “Back Again.” Hi-Tek switches his style up to some Southern bounce on the horn-heavy “Strangers,” which, inevitably, features a Bun B verse. Even on a fairly standard state-of-the-union track like “In This World,” the duo is hard to beat, particularly when Tek lays down a slowed-down Jay-Z sample (dropping Kweli’s name of course) in the middle.
Throughout the album, these two play to their strengths, but they’re not above a misstep, most notably “Midnight Hour,” a kind of pace interrupting pop jam featuring Estelle that, by my math, should have been much better than it turned out. As it is, it’s practically a Black Eyed Peas song. But a handful of minor blemishes isn’t enough to slight the album, particularly when it also has its share of hypnotic highlights like “Lifting Off.” Reflection Eternal may only put together an album every 10 years or so, but Revolutions Per Minute gives plenty of evidence to believe that 2020 will find them sounding just as strong as ever.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.