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Talib Kweli at Philander Smith 

THURSDAY 11/6

ATMOSPHERE

8 p.m. Juanita's. $20.

Atmosphere is an underground hip-hop group (est. 1989) from Minneapolis, which these days and for most of its history has claimed two principal members: a DJ and producer named Ant and a rapper and front man named Slug. "Underground hip hop" has meant a number of different things over the last few decades and the movement that Atmosphere embodied was certainly one of the stranger of these things. Jon Caramanica profiled them for Spin in 2004, right at the peak of their cultural resonance, and compared them to Bright Eyes and Death Cab for Cutie, describing their fans as "disaffected, middle-class and overwhelmingly white." The title of the article was "Emo Rap: Up From the Underground," which is funny in hindsight only because as soon as it hit newsstands, one imagines, "Emo Rap" dove back down to the underground's ocean floor never to return (unless you count Drake or, I don't know, Macklemore). You also have to respect these guys: They founded the label Rhymesayers and are generally speaking (and maybe surprisingly) one of the most successful long-lasting independent hip-hop groups ever. Slug has been hailed as a great writer, too, even meriting a spot in Yale University's controversial "Anthology of Rap." As the "Emo Rap" tag implies, he often writes about failed relationships from the point of view of an aggrieved dude: "Most of this garbage I write that these people seem to like," as he put it on "Fuck You Lucy," "is about you and how I let you infect my life." WS

THURSDAY 11/6

TALIB KWELI

7 p.m. Philander Smith College. Free.

Talib Kweli grew up in Park Slope, Brooklyn, the son of academics who sent him to boarding school in Connecticut. He studied at NYU, collaborated with DJ Hi-Tek and later, most famously, Mos Def, and over the course of a couple of decades has maintained a reputation as a politically conscious, technically gifted MC. "If skills sold/Truth be told/I'd probably be/Lyrically Talib Kweli," Jay-Z rapped in 2003, in what is often presented as a compliment (in profiles of Kweli) but one that's about as back-handed as they come. And it's not hard to see what he means. Critic Kelefa Sanneh once describe Kweli's project as a struggle to "reconcile left-wing idealism with the anything-goes attitude of hip hop," and in practice this has involved a balancing act between style and didacticism, often tipping over into the latter for long stretches. He can come off as pedantic, musically conservative, forever fixated on the fundamentalist notion of returning rap to an imagined Golden Age, when its subjects were more high-minded (overlooking both the historical reality that this age never existed, and the aesthetic and moral complexity of rap's treatment of its favorite themes). "We need more responsibility in our music," he told Vibe in 2001, though it's difficult to listen to Kweli's records without desiring exactly the opposite: less responsibility, less pedantry. Fortunately, these exact characteristics make him most likely an excellent lecturer, which is the context in which he'll appear at Philander on Thursday, as part of the college's Bless the Mic speaking series. WS

FRIDAY 11/7

B.J. NOVAK

8 p.m. Reynolds Performance Hall, UCA. $15.

B.J. Novak, the thinking man's James Franco, has in the past few years published a children's book and a New York Times bestselling short story collection, starred in a Quentin Tarantino film and "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," and served as an executive producer for two NBC shows (one of which, "The Office," he also starred in, and which came to be one of the most beloved shows on modern TV). All of that wasn't enough for this particular brand of overreaching Harvard grad, though — he's insisted on a side hustle as a stand-up comic. He'll give it his best shot at the Reynolds Performance Hall in Conway, thanks to the efforts of the University of Central Arkansas Student Activities Board. WS

FRIDAY 11/7

JOE ELY

8:30 p.m. Revolution. $15-$25.

The most famous export from the city of Lubbock, Texas, was Buddy Holly, but Joe Ely is up there, too, as is Phillips 66 gasoline and the early UFO phenomenon sometimes called the "Lubbock Lights." Ely had a thing about Buddy Holly: He bought a Cadillac once and painted it pink, with blue Naugahyde upholstery, just like Holly's. On YouTube you can find video of a set he once played with Holly's old band, The Crickets, for some PBS fundraiser. They played "Well ... All Right," and it's incredible. They're surrounded by neon musical notes and all the other emblems of retro '50s diner culture, and Ely is just leisurely tipping back and forth, looking hollowed out. He also looks sweaty, as is befitting of a country singer best known for collaborating with The Clash (that's him singing backing vocals on "Should I Stay or Should I Go"). He also played with Springsteen, Guy Clark, Lyle Lovett and Uncle Tupelo, plus, of course, his longtime band The Flatlanders (Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock), all of them fellow Lubbock natives. He also once worked for the circus, Ringling Brothers. He led the world's smallest horse in the parade, and fell in love with a Bulgarian acrobat. Or anyway, that's what he said. WS

SATURDAY 11/8-SUNDAY 11/9

'BEETHOVEN AND BLUE JEANS'

7:30 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Maumelle Performing Arts Center. $19-$58.

According to her Wikipedia page, classical guitarist Sharon Isbin began practicing transcendental meditation at age 17. Here is a list of her guitar-related accomplishments, none of which are made up: She founded the guitar department at Juilliard; she studied with Segovia and won a handful of Grammys; she has performed with, at one end of the spectrum, Steve Vai, and, at the other, the New York Philharmonic; she appears on the soundtrack for Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning "The Departed"; she performed at the White House in 2009; she has released albums with titles like "Guitar Passions" and "Dances for Guitar"; she has, on at least one occasion, won Guitar Player magazine's "Best Classical Guitarist" award. In short, Sharon Isbin is a classical guitarist. She will be performing with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra as part of its "Beethoven and Blue Jeans" production, at which the ASO will play Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 and two compositions by Corigliano, one of which is intriguingly titled "Three Hallucinations from 'Altered States.' " WS

SATURDAY 11/8

ARKANSAS CORNBREAD FESTIVAL

11 a.m. South Main Street. $7-$10.

I think we can all agree that besides cheese dip, cornbread is the other food that defines us, and it's worth celebrating. So it's back to South Main Street on Saturday, Nov. 8, for another good-time comestible competition: the annual Arkansas Cornbread Festival. Yes, there may be a little cheese dip lingering in the pavers of the Bernice Garden from the recent World Cheese Dip Championship, but who'll notice with so much variations on cornbread to taste? Only amateur bakers will be competing for cash prizes this year, so the pros can be unfettered and chancy in their recipes for this essential accompaniment to Southern cooking. Something new for this fourth annual event: You can vote by text for your favorite cornbread. The festival runs down the middle of Main; a stage on the north end will feature music by the Chris Parker Trio, Bijoux featuring Onyx the Band, The Salty Dogs, Good Time Ramblers and Runaway Plant. Look for an article about the Cornbread Festival in the November issue of Food Network Magazine, featuring last year's winning recipes. LNP

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