Unlike classic hip-hop producer/MC duos like Guru and DJ Premier, or Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth, the partnership of Talib Kweli and DJ Hi-Tek, a.k.a. Reflection Eternal, isn’t rooted in the producer’s signature sound. For better or worse, Hi-Tek is a sonic chameleon, and Revolutions Per Minute, the duo’s decade-in-the-making follow-up to Train Of Thought, sounds like it could have been mastered by the requisite team of producers.
Revolutions Per Minute is strongest when guests push Reflection Eternal in intriguing new directions. “Midnight Hour,” for example, swings like one of Mark Ronson’s glossy retro concoctions for Amy Winehouse, thanks to ebullient horns and a sassily sweet chorus from neo-soul chanteuse Estelle. On “Get Loose,” Kweli and Chester French embrace hip-hop/new-wave fusion. Mos Def and Kweli cosign red-hot newcomers J. Cole and Jay Electronica on the jazzy, muted “Just Begun,” and longtime collaborator Bilal lends silky soul to “Ends.” Elsewhere, Kweli combines social consciousness with geeky science-fiction pop-culture references, sometimes over the course of a single rhyme, like when he compares the police’s treatment of African-Americans to the oppression of the aliens in District 9. Hi-Tek lacks a trademark style, but his chemistry with Kweli remains potent, even when Minute doesn’t hit the heights of the duo’s debut. A lot has changed since Reflection Eternal and its former label, Rawkus, were the epicenter of progressive hip-hop, but the duo’s commitment to making good music hasn’t altered.