Thursday, February 24, 2011

February 24: Reflection Eternal, "Good Mourning"

Artist: Reflection Eternal
Song: "Good Mourning"
Album: Train Of Thought
Year: 2000

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Though there are a number of trends and tendencies within music that play important roles in the overall progression of sound and style, there may be no more significant a word than "balance."  Whether it is finding the "middle ground" between a number of instruments or understanding how to offset different influences, it is in the greatest songs in history where one finds the true masters of balance.  However, one can also see how this plays on a larger scale, with a variety of sounds needed to keep the dominant trend in check.  The importance of this idea was perhaps never more clear than when "gangsta rap" began to take an ugly turn into copycat songs in the latter half of the 1990's.  With countless emcees seemingly to want nothing more than a quick rise to the top by mimicking any popular sound, it was the authentic artists occupying the "underground" of hip-hop that would ultimately save the genre.  Among these champions of original thought and sound, there was perhaps none more important than Talib Kweli, and one can find him in top form with his short lived project, Reflection Eternal.  The duo's 2000 release, Train Of Thought, is an absolute hip-hop classic, providing some of the most exciting musical arrangements behind Kweli's mind-blowing rhymes.  With each song on the album standing today as "required listening" for all hip-hop fans, it is the scathing, yet smooth "Good Mourning" that epitomizes the brilliance that is Reflection Eternal.

Released in an era that put a massive emphasis on almost annoyingly heavy bass, DJ Hi-Tek absolutely destroys nearly all of his peers with the composition he creates on "Good Mourning," and the mood the song carries makes it truly unforgettable.  Though the samples he uses are a bit difficult to pin down, once one realizes the sources of part of the song, the word balance arises again, and one cannot help but appreciate the fusion he presents.  The easier piece to pick out is the portion of Wu-Tang Clan's classic, "C.R.E.A.M.," and the other larger sample comes from Hugo Montenegro's "Dizzy."  The way in which Hi-Tek mixes these two pieces in with the stark, almost spaced-out mood is absolutely fantastic, and there are few songs of any genre that have been able to provide a similar feeling.  The way in which the keys lightly dance across the beat, providing an ideal contrast to the constant tone in the background manages to give "Good Mourning" an "old school" feel whilst retaining an unquestionably modern and hip feel.  Yet the title comes into play in the fact that one can feel a uniquely somber tone to the song, and isolating the music alone, there is a feeling that is almost that of a lament.  Requiring very little bass, Hi-Tek proves that regardless of trends, true musical craftsmanship will always have impact, and it is the brilliant arrangement he presents that helps to make "Good Mourning" such an unforgettable musical experience.

Standing as the ideal balance to the music, one can make the case that even more than a decade later, Talib Kweli's performance on "Good Mourning" still ranks as one of his finest musical moments.  Bringing a distinctive, clear, and unrelenting sound to the track, Kweli makes a conscious effort throughout the song to ensure that no word is lost, helping to deliver the maximum impact of his words.  Furthermore, unlike many of his peers, Kweli's vocals never seem forced or artificial, and the way in which his rhymes flow from him is a testament to the pure talent within, placing him into the most elite group of emcees in history.  Further distancing himself from his peers, one can easily sense that every word he says is as vital as the next, and there is a clear feeling of "teaching" occurring throughout the song, representing a critical aspect of hip-hop that seemed to be getting lost at the time.  On "Good Mourning," Kweli turns the pen on many of these emcees, bringing their talents and motives into question in brilliance fashion.  There is nothing subtle when he rhymes, "...some players is mad at us for just doing our music out of love, some underground heads is hating 'cause we have fun at clubs..."  Later in the song, Kweli destroys another group of emcees when he pulls the quote, "...just because no one can understand how you speak, don't necessaraily mean that what you be saying is deep..."  It is the way in which Talib Kweli unapologetically attacks the ignorance and inauthentic feel of much of hip-hop that makes "Good Mourning" so amazing, and yet it is almost tragic to consider that more than a decade later, a majority of the issues are still overly-present within the genre.

Though many emcees have taken shots at the mindless, ignorant trends that dominate much of commercially successful hip-hop, one can easily argue that Reflection Eternal's "Good Mourning" stands high atop the list for a number of reasons.  The way in which Talib Kweli's vocals seem to clash with the mellow, reflective sounds from DJ Hi-Tek enables the song of occupy a number of different places within hip-hop, giving the song a reach and appeal which few are able to attain.  Quickly proving to be one of the most poetic and yet aggressive emcees, Kweli is on fire from the moment that Train Of Thought begins, and he somehow manages to get better and better with each track.  As a pair, Kweli and Hi-Tek work the entire gamut of sounds and styles, and it is in this diversity in arrangement that the group showed their ability to one-up any who might try to test their talents.  Though this pairing would ultimately lead to the formation of the equally brilliant group, Black Star, the album easily stands on its own as one of the finest moments in all of hip-hop history.  The way in which Kweli spins his words is simultaneously beautiful and stunning, and he finishes off all of the "fake" rappers in the industry with the line, " was living for yourself so you could never be a martyr..."  Bringing words and images to hip-hop that were far beyond the norm of the time, along with fresh and original musical arrangements, Reflection Eternal breathed life into a tragically stale world of hip-hop, and everything that makes the group so revered can be experienced within their phenomenal 2000 song, "Good Mourning."

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