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Beautiful Mix

The less-famous half of Black Star, Talib Kweli performs as he battles the pre-release leak of his newest album

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As hip-hop artist Talib Kweli put it years ago in song, the most effective rappers are real-life documentarians shining a light into the darkness. Kweli is part of the so-called "underground" hip-hop community that includes such not-so-gangsta artists as The Roots, Common, Dead Prez and Kanye West, who has enjoyed recent mainstream success.

Straight out of Brooklyn, Kweli is in Los Angeles this week and soon heads to Tucson for a gig at the Rialto Theater June 3. The evening also will include a performance by masterly beatmeister MF Doom, a creative and enigmatic DJ and MC who patterns his performing persona after the Fantastic Four's nemesis, Dr. Doom.

Kweli first came to widespread public attention when he and rap colleague Mos Def, a buddy from high school, released a still-remarkable 1998 duo album under the name Black Star. That disc, also titled Black Star, remains one of the greatest moments in 1990s hip-hop.

Although divergent career paths--Mos Def has experienced serious success on Broadway and in film--kept Def and Kweli from making another record, they continue to perform together when time allows.

There are no current plans to make another Black Star record, but Kweli has said in interviews that he doesn't rule it out.

"Mos is like one of my best friends," Kweli told the campus newspaper at Michigan State University last month. "Our relationship goes far beyond music. That's why we answer the question like, 'Sure, we'll do another record.' But it's like you don't want to do a record just because fans want it; you want to do it because the time is right to do it. It's not like it's not currently in the plans, it's just it comes as it comes."

Kweli, though, has proven productive in the music field since Black Star. In that time, has recorded three albums. Reflection Eternal, a duet with DJ Hi-Tek, and his solo debut, Quality, both hit the racks in 2002. His latest, The Beautiful Struggle (due later this summer), has weathered some challenges. Late last year, the master tapes were leaked to the Internet and posted on many Web sites.

In March, Kweli commented on the leak on his Web site (talibkweli.com): "... If I had a chance to get a hold of one of my favorite artists' CDs early, I would jump at it. So if some asshole from a recording studio leaks my unfinished, unmixed and uneven album, consider it a personal triumph. Play it for your friends, and if you like it, buy the version I want you to have. If you are a fan of my music, allow me to live off it so I can continue to bring it to you.

"But once you put it on a Web site and encourage people to download it, you become the bigger asshole. You are not respecting my artistic process and, worse, you are taking food out of my children's mouth. The shit is depressing really because I work so hard and I deserve the right to determine how I want my music presented. If you are truly a fan of my music, please do not support people who do this, no matter what the temptation might be."

While we wait for the release of The Beautiful Struggle, and to divert attention from the bootlegged tapes, Kweli has released the preview album, The Beautiful Mix CD.

Available from Kweli's Web site, it features a few cuts from the leaked album as well as some guest tracks and an appearance by comedian Dave Chappelle, a close friend of Kweli's. The guests on the The Beautiful Mix CD are no slouches. The roster includes Kanye West, Busta Rhymes, Common, Black Thought, Fabolous, Jean Grae and Res.

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