October 10, 2014

Hi-Tek - Hi-Teknology (May 8, 2001)

Reflection Eternal is one of those duos that hasn't gotten a ton of press on these virtual pages.  Obviously I'm aware of their existence: the sidebar features multiple entries for the team of rapper Talib Kweli and producer Hi-Tek.  And by looking at every other hip hop blog in existence, it's clear that Kweli isn't physically capable of not working: it's like he's afraid that taking a break will result in his banishment from our chosen genre, or maybe he's just afraid that he's going to miss something cool, like a child upset when they're told to go to bed early when their parents are in the middle of a dinner party.  But what is missing are some updates on the producing half of Reflection Eternal, which is why today's post focuses on Hi-Tek and not any of those myriad Talib Kweli solo albums that I will inevitably cut from my "finish what I started" list because I technically have yet to even start his solo discography.

Yep, Kweli gets dropped on a fucking technicality.  Ain't I a stinker?

Tony "Hi-Tek" Cottrell hails from Cincinnatti, Ohio, and even though his production work has expanded well beyond his original scope, he is still probably best known for supplying beats to self-proclaimed "conscious" rappers, such as Mos Def and the aforementioned Kweli.  His actual beginnings are a bit more gray: he started out producing several tracks for a Cincinnati-based unit that called themselves Mood.  Their biggest hit (and by "hit", I mean the song most readers will be familiar with, but only if they're of a certain age and are familiar with the now-defunct BET program Rap City), "Karma", helped Tony build up a small following: his connection with the then-unknown Kweli, who he invited to appear over several of Mood's songs, pushed him over the top.

Kweli and Tek paired up under the banner Reflection Eternal, securing a record deal with underground kings Rawkus Records.  After releasing a few twelve-inch singles and a full-length album, they put the group on a brief hold not to surpass two to three minutes, and Kweli began building his name in the game, both alongside Mos Def in Black Star (so I guess we're never getting another Black Star album, huh?) and all by his lonesome.  Hi-Tek stayed behind the boards, even lending some beats to Black Star, but he also longed for the spotlight himself, and finally snagged an opportunity to prove himself when Rawkus agreed to release his solo debut, Hi-Teknology, weirdly doing so before Kweli's own solo debut ever hit store shelves.

Hi-Tek is the son of Willie Cottrell, of the Willie Cottrell Band, so he was very familiar with both music and the way the industry worked.  So he crafted his debut very carefully.  Although he does rap occasionally, Hi-Teknology would not become the showcase for his spitting: instead, he chose to focus on his production work and its malleability, inviting the usual suspects (Kweli, The Mighty Mos, and some members of Mood), some like-minded associates (Common, mostly), some singers he had previously established working relationships with (Jonell, Vinia Mojica), and, most importantly, rappers that most heads wouldn't think fit over a Hi-Tek beat (Cormega, Buckshot).  This was all an effort to show that Hi-Tek didn't wish to be pigeonholed into one sub-genre of hip hop, and, well, it fucking worked, given his production credits on his Wikipedia page.

Hi-Teknology didn't scorch the Billboard charts, and hell, I don't even know if you two realize it exists, but of all the albums I could have written about today, it's certainly one of them.

Personally, this rap album intro, which consists of an annoying instrumental laced with scratched-in vocal samples that almost contribute an entire verse, wouldn't have led me to believe that Hi-Tek could ever be anything but one-half of Reflection Eternal, but whatever. Including children on your intro is almost always the kiss of death: “Scratch Rappin'” is no exception. Fuck, am I not looking forward to listening to this again.

Even though Lonnie's verses sound like a natural extension from his Resurrection days, Hi-Tek doesn't take the easy way out with a bland No I.D. impersonation: instead, he sticks to his guns, producing a beat that Talib Kweli could easily slide on to. The problem is that said beat is a bit repetitive, and it nearly drove me insane having to actually listen to the full track. The music never fucking changes, and Hi-Tek even lets the beat ride unaccompanied toward the end, like the sick bastard he is. Sadly, it doesn't matter if Common's performance was any good, because the music will have long since chased you away before you remember that there were actual lyrics on here. Groan.

Essentially a Reflection Eternal track with DCQ (who, let's dig way back here, was a former member of Urban Thermo Dynamics and possibly a current member of Medina Green, depending on if they still fucking exist, both of which also included amongst their respective ranks a young Mos Def) performing the hook. Kweli tries his best over Hi-Tek's repetitive (that's a running theme, by the way) loop, spitting his threats and boasts out so quickly that he can barely catch his breath, which isn't surprising, considering that this track was recorded back when Talib Kweli was still pretty green. The song was alright, but it wasn't real: as such, it comes across as an unnecessary sequel that the movie studio produced just to sucker more people into removing money from their wallets. (“Get Back Pt. II” is supposed to be a continuation of a previously-released Reflection Eternal track that made the rounds on compilations and such, if you're inclined to track that sort of stuff down.)

Our host does his best DJ Premier impersonation on “Breakin' Bread”, a posse cut made up of lesser-known rappers, including two from his fellow Cincinnati homeys Mood. Everyone sounds pretty good on here, but my problem with this song is that the artists aren't very distinguishable, so everyone kind of blends together, and there isn't one guy who is interesting enough to single out. Everyone is technically proficient, which, surprisingly, makes this really fucking boring. Had Hi-Tek given this beat to some of his A-list friends, they probably could have made this a bit more memorable. Sigh.

As Hi-Tek was primarily known for his work with Talib Kweli and Mos Def at the time Hi-Teknology was released (I would mention his work with Mood, but nobody knew who they were back then, or even now, really), it was shocking to see Cormega's name appear on the guest list, as his brand of Queensbridge-based thug rap seemed to be a poor fit for a guy who loves conscious rap. And then it turned out that Hi-Tek simply loved producing, for anyone (hence, his later work with the G-Unit). Mega Montana attacks this love rap with tact and decisiveness, and our host lends him a nice fucking beat to back up his sentimental thoughts. With less than a minute to go, Hi-Tek switches the beat and Mega follows suit, rhyming until the track fades him out, but I'm not as upset as I normally am at that creative choice, as that second “song” isn't that great. The bulk of “All I Need Is You” is the tits, though.

It's not as though I actually believe that Hi-Tek should stick with producing “conscious” artists: it's just that, thanks to Reflection Eternal, that has now been classified forever as his wheelhouse, and a hard one to break out of, at that. Since his work with Cormega earlier didn't turn Queens-based thug rap on its ear (since that was technically a love song), “Where I'm From” should be considered Tony's first step at broadening his production horizons. Not that he does so all that much: Brooklyn-based Jinx Da Juvy (an artist you've never heard of that you will have forgotten about by the time you finish this sentence) spits his pointless banter and aimless threats over musical backing that could have just as easily gone to Kweli (also a running theme, folks). Not impressive or memorable in the least fucking bit.

A brief instrumental interlude. Not much to see here.

This was released as a single, so some of you two may remember “Round & Round” (sadly, not a cover of the New Order club hit, nor is it a remake of the Ratt standard) sounding pleasant (mostly because of the beat, because I give credit where it's due), but hollow. Today marks the first time I've listened to this version of the song in quite some time, and I have to say, it's missing the crucial element needed to keep an audience's attention. Jonell's vocals are clean and polished, but she doesn't sound confident enough to carry a breakup song on her shoulders: even if she had broken up with several guys in her lifetime, even if she did just that right before walking into the booth, you don't hear it in her performance. The song doesn't exactly fall apart, but it is definitely weaker than I recall. (As for that earlier “this version” talk: methinks Hi-Tek missed out on a huge marketing opportunity (or maybe the label balked at shelling out the dough) by not putting the Jonell/Method Man remix of “Round & Round” on Hi-Teknology. Instead, Meth got to keep it for the soundtrack to his flick How High. Which was hardly the appropriate venue.)

After showing off by playing a voicemail left for him by none other than motherfucking Branford Marsalis, Hi-Tek launches into the Native Tongues-esque “Git Ta Steppin'”, a duet between Kweli's Black Star partner Yaasin Bey Mos Def and Vinia Mojica. The calming instrumental works much better than I remembered, and although I wish Dante were actually rapping on here, I still like his singing voice, and he croons alongside Mojica like a champ. A rather nice break from the loudmouth braggadocio that tends to be hip hop these days.

Okay, now I'm pretty sure that Tony is just fucking with me. Why else would a song entitled “Theme From Hi-Tek” turn out to be a one-verse wonder from Talib Kweli? For the record, this track isn't entirely awful: the instrumental has a striking quality that is missing almost entirely from his work on Reflection Eternal's Train of Thought. Kweli still isn't the greatest rapper in the world, but he is serviceable on here, as well. I suppose it's possible that the only reason I didn't like this track is because of the misleading title. So be it.

Although I feel that I should try a lot harder, instead of settling for a “meh” on a Slum Village track, “L.T.A.H.” (which stands for “Let's Talk About Her”, apparently) is boring as fuck. It is what it is.

Hi-Tek brings back the rapping components of Mood for a return engagement, lending Donte and Main Flow a beat that sounds like something Kweli wouldn't piss on if it were on fire. The artists involved sound okay, but the instrumental is so unappealing that I almost want to go back in time and prevent its parents from ever meeting. However, that would then fuck up everything in the present day, and HHID may be, instead, a blog reviewing household appliances or mutual funds or some shit, and that would truly be the darkest timeline. So I'll stop by saying that this sucked.

Because Hi-Tek couldn't close out the album without at least one more surprise, he invites Boot Camp Clik founded and Duck Down CEO Buckshot to the party, gifting him with his own interpretation of what a Beatminerz instrumental might have sounded like if it found itself lost in Common's backyard. Buckshot is entirely out of his element, which, weirdly, results in a pretty good performance, albeit one spoken almost entirely in catchphrases, but Hi-Tek's work behind the boards was too simplistic for my tastes. It also annoyed me that it took several seconds for the track itself to arrive at the beginning, as I has thought there was something wrong with my iPod, which is never something a musician wants to hear their work compared to.

Hi-Tek actually spits a verse on what is still ultimately a rap album outro. Truth be told, he isn't all that bad, even though his contribution abruptly ends before it runs its course. But this could have been worse. Poor Jonell is given almost nothing to do besides recite our host's name, though, and really, just how narcissistic is that?

FINAL THOUGHTS:  Hi-Teknology didn't end up being Hi-Tek's calling card, mostly because the beats are almost uniformly forgettable, save for a few.  The man isn't without talent, but the tracks that made the final cut of Hi-Teknology fail to prove that he's a producer worth following, unlike some of his more well-known peers.  I'm sure he could really give a fuck about this now, but back in 2001 he was riding high as one-half of Reflection Eternal, a duo that ultimately spun their wheels, and while it's important to learn and grow from these experiences, Hi-Teknology doesn't show that our host has gained anything from this lesson.  The songs on here are merely alright: the ones that stick in my mind are the tracks with guest performances that grab you and refuse to let go (*cough* Cormega *cough*).  So, as is the problem with all producer compilations of this nature, not everything works.

BUY OR BURN? Burn this one, not because it's an inferior album or anything, but because Hi-Tek's work on here fails to stand out in hip hop's crowded field. While you'll probably find at least one song you liked on here, that price on the Amazon link is, to put it mildly, fucking ridiculous.

BEST TRACKS: “All I Need Is You”; “Git Ta Steppin'”


Well, as mentioned above, Hi-Tek is one-half of this duo called Reflection Eternal.

(EDIT: An earlier version of this article named Hi-Tek as the deejay for the rap group Die Antwoord.  We regret the error.  Well, maybe "regret" is too strong a word.  Is there a word that means "shrugged off and corrected"?  Because that.)


  1. The Hi-Tek in Die Antwoord is NOT the same Hi-Tek

    1. 1. Thank fucking God, because I hate Die Antwoord.
      2. I've since updated the article. Thank you for noticing.
      3. Hi-Tek should probably figure out if there are any legal means by which he can fight the guy for the name. I, for one, know how frustrating and annoying it is to see someone take the same name of something you've worked hard on...

    2. chicken daddyOctober 14, 2014

      aye max you review alot of albums no one gives a damn about

      wheres pinata and the new mobb deep

      review a rick ross album or something your blog always blows up when you review someone like that think drake or lil wayne review some gucci mane

    3. If you loved me, you wouldn't ask me to listen to a Lil Wayne album.

    4. Well, he didn't really say he loves you Max.

  2. So is Hi Tek just taking a big fat break? His wikipedia production discography isn't that detailed and I really like him I just wanna find all his stuff

  3. Max why you delete the comment about the Ohio rapper? The struggle is real

    1. 1) Stick to the topic at hand.

      2) There wasn't even a link or a website or anything. I'm sorry, but what am I supposed to do with that? (Note: do not try to leave any comments with links or websites.)

    2. The fact that there was no link or website is what made it golden, and you had to delete it. GODDAMNIT MAX

  4. While I agree that the album is merely alright, The Sun God and Suddenly are by far my favorite tracks on here, especially due to the production. Maybe you have to make beats yourself to appreciate the subtle nuances in them.
    That said, for me Tek fell the fuck off, the dude hasnt made a single beat since Hi-Teknology 2 that I liked. He makes almost nothing these days anyway and when he does it is all the same weak trash.