Talib Kweli and J-Live concert rocks CMU

?Don?t y?all have tests to study for?? asked rapper Talib Kweli on stage with a smile. But the concert, sponsored by AB Concerts on Friday, was definitely worth a study break. CMU and Pitt students, along with local Pittsburghers, filled the Wiegand Gym to see Brooklyn-born rappers Talib Kweli and J-Live.

In an interview before the show, J-Live ? the concert?s opening act ? talked about his developing career as a rapper. After high school, J-Live, who was already signed to a record deal, was forced to join the work force when the label shut down. In response he turned to teaching, which in turn impacted his rap.

Teaching, says J-Live, reminds the rapper that ?you need to have the hook to keep kids? attention.? J-Live, who has been rapping for 10 years, is proud of how far he?s come, but also has plenty he wants to accomplish. ?I have a lot to be proud of, but how much money goes into marketing my music ? I?m not happy with that.... Never breaking into commercial radio ? that can be improved. But I?m confident that I can take it where I need to take it in the future.
I can provide for my family, and I can look back and say that I have a lot to be proud of,? he explained.

Onstage, J-Live is just as confident in his raps as he is in conversation. ?Sidewalks,? according to J-Live, was written in response to the atypical experience he had growing up in Brooklyn: ?Growing up as a big kid with glasses, no one saw me as a ?street? dude. I didn?t see all the crazy things. I didn?t grow up around that. My mom pretty much kept me under lock and key. And if I?m not ?street,? then I?m the sidewalks, because I can still look at that type of thing from an outsider?s perspective.? J-Live used this mentality to his advantage, and learned how to use the turntables. He showed off his many talents on Friday night when he took control of the turntable rig, rapping and scratching on the turntables simultaneously.

When J-Live finished, the lights dimmed, and after a brief intermission world-renowned rapper Talib Kweli took the stage. Dressed in a black leather jacket (which quickly came off inside the sweltering gymnasium) and with a hood over his grey beret, Kweli rocked the 1300 fans on hand. AB Tech?s fabulous light display and good work with acoustics ? which is no small feat for a rap concert in a gymnasium ? made the music crisp and the experience engaging. Kweli, whose new CD Right About Now comes out Tuesday, played a wide range of songs: some old, some as yet unreleased.
Among the highlights of the show was Kweli?s performance of ?Never Been in Love.? The lights dimmed down to pink as Kweli had the crowd throw up their hands in an L-shape. ?I don?t care what people say, as long as you and me okay/ ?cause I never been in love before ... all of this is new to me/this ain?t what I used to see/ ?cause I never been in love before,? the soulful chorus rang.

Kweli surprised the crowd when his DJ cued up the beat to Kanye West?s ?Get Em High,? a song on which Kweli is a guest rapper. Kweli rapped West?s catchy chorus, as well as a freestyle of his own. ?Education at Carnegie Mellon, you preserve it,? he rapped. Toward the end of his set, Kweli?s DJ blasted Sly Stone?s party-friendly ?Dance to the Music.? Kweli in turn invited any break-dancers in the crowd to come up and dance. Kweli stood off to the side ripping through raps as the dancers treated the audience to some visual stimulation, something neither Kweli or J-Live were quite able to accomplish themselves.

Perhaps the highlight of the concert was when Kweli busted into the Kanye West?produced track ?Get By.? Although most people in the audience didn?t know the words to Kweli?s other songs, many sang along eagerly with the expressive chorus: ?This morning I woke up feeling brand new/I jumped up feeling my highs and my lows/In my soul/And my goals/Just to stop smoking, and stop drinking/And I?ve been thinking/I?ve got my reasons/Just to get by.? Kweli, who lyrically is considered one of the most talented rappers (Jay-Z once rapped ?If skills sold, truth be told, I?d probably be, lyrically, Talib Kweli?), showed off the power of his words in the second verse: ?Some people get breast enhancements and penis enlargers/Saturday sinners, Sunday morning at the feet of the Father/They need somethin? to rely on/We get high on all types of drugs, when all you really need is love.?

With plenty of people volunteering before and after the concert, AB Concerts chair Eileen Angulo was pleased with how things went. ?Overall, the show went a lot smoother than I anticipated,? she said. ?We had a lot of volunteers from Concert staff and Tech that were willing to put together a show that people wanted to see.? Kweli himself agreed: ?It was a good show and a cool crowd,? he said after the show backstage. J-Live, standing by his side, nodded in agreement. Kweli?s mother, who was also on hand for the performance, said, ?There are a lot of males!?

Yes, there are quite a lot of males here at CMU. Nonetheless, the crowd was still supportive, energetic, and always smiling. Take that, male-to-female ratio.