On "Manifesto," his contribution to the 1997 compilation Lyricist Lounge Vol. 1, Brooklyn MC Talib Kweli outlined a 10-point plan for his fellow hip-hoppers to follow. Among them: "Respect yourself as an artist," "Make sure your crew is as tight as you," and, most memorably, "We soldiers for God needin' new recruits/So if you rhymin' for the loot then you's a prostitute." Since then, he's been taking his own advice. Sure, Kweli makes money, but listening to his galvanizing, uncompromised rhymes, you get the feeling he's not all that worried about it. His crew includes Cincinnati beat-maker Hi Tek and fellow Brooklynite Mos Def, with whom Kweli records as Black Star -- not bad company at all.
As far as respect goes, Kweli has hardly laid back from his first single, the underground hip-hop classic "Reflection Eternal." Mos Def may have gotten more press post-Black Star, but on the duo's self-titled 1998 album, Kweli frequently had the killer lines: "You stoppin' us is preposterous/Like an androgynous misogynist/You pickin' the wrong time/ Steppin' to me when I'm in my prime/ Like Optimus."
On 2000's Reflection Eternal, his full-length collaboration with Hi Tek, Kweli keeps up the pace, mowing down sucker MCs with lines like "I call these cats Reynolds' cuz they plastic rap" and excoriating the gangsta mentality on "Africa Dream": "These cats drink champagne to toast death and pain/Like slaves on a ship talkin' about who got the flyest chains." And thanks to Hi Tek's soul-fueled beats, he manages that hip-hop rarity: a manifesto that refuses to bog down into stale posturing.