Talib Kweli feat. Mos Def, Jay-Z, Kanye West & Busta Rhymes – “Get By (Remix)”

Released: 3.11.03

Peak: #77

The hip-hop generation’s worship of Nina Simone has remained largely symbolic, and I can’t complain. The old-school civil rights stolidity she exemplifies may be inspirational on an ethical level, but musically, she has about as much to offer the 21st century as Paul Robeson or Odetta–and far less than do the cadences of Martin or Malcolm. “Get By” invokes her name repeatedly (though at least nobody’s claiming she rocks harder than the Stones here, right Mos?). But the track owes less to that witchy introductory wail from “Sinnerman” than to George Suranovich, the Love drummer whose solo on “Doggone” Kanye has repeatedly plundered for his rhythm tracks. And it owes even more to John Legend’s blocky Latin piano and the gospel-style choir.

The real question is, how much does it owe Talib Kweli? A decent guy with a decent flow and a decent eye for detail, Talib stands apart from the conscious-rap multitudes primarily because of his persistent efforts to render decency commercial. Without Mos’ acting career or avant-gardism to fall back on, he tried his damnedest to sell records. Yet he failed to create the pop-backpacker role that Kanye would fill because he lacked that essential conflict between one’s moral compass and one’s selfish desires that would allow him to create art out of virtue.

Of course,what also distinguished Talib was an unprecedented amount of support from industry heavyweights. The “Get By” remix is a genuine posse cut, with each guest is in top form: Jay calls (more or less) for a living wage, Kanye boasts “like if Michelangelo painted a portrait of Maya Angelou,” Busta busts without clowning, and Mos slides in behind Talib like he never left. If anything, there’s too little Kweli–his rhymes on the original version are among his sharpest. But as befits a song about getting by, Talib wasn’t above accepting a little help from his friends.

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