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Talib Kweli & Hi Tek 

Reflection Eternal (Rawkus)

Before he hooked up with master MC Mos Def on 1998's Black Star project, Talib Kweli was one half of Reflection Eternal with DJ Hi Tek. The pair constructed a few underground singles that moved along the same black-thought boulevard as Black Star, but never really ignited. With his group on hiatus, as Mos Def pursues his acting and solo careers, Kweli returned to the studio with Hi Tek and made Reflection Eternal, the album. And as a piece of the hip-hop map that started on Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star and continued on last year's Mos Def album Black on Both Sides, Reflection Eternal is a fine if not completely vital next step. Kweli is a sharp rapper, and his rhymes, which shuffle between culture consciousness and old-school bravado, never patronize the listener. This is street-smart stuff, leaving most of the clichés behind.

But where Black Star and Black on Both Sides raised the bar for underground hip-hop, Reflection Eternal merely stomps around at the same level. And there's a little too much self-promotion going on here to include it on the mantel with those two modern classics -- it's almost as if it's trying a little too hard to be considered for that honor. Not that it doesn't come close a couple of times. "Move Somethin'" is a funky club thumper, and "Some Kind of Wonderful" lays out a rap battleground where words are mightier than conventional weapons. Kweli slams hard rhymes on top of Hi Tek's mostly low-tech groove. It's a lethal combo, but not quite the killer punch for which its creators were hoping.

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