Ever since the lyrically dense Talib Kweli (you pronounce the name “Kwall-e,” any questions?) dropped his acclaimed solo debut Reflection Eternal he’s been caught in the middle of a hip-hop tug-of-war. Club dwellers complained he was too preachy, rhyme purists fumed when he made tracks you could dance to, and he struggled to make music that reflected his full range without appearing to cave in to either side. On his new album, Eardrum, Kweli has decided screw it, if people are going to complain either way I'll just do my thing. The result is an …
DJBooth Album Review
The album opens with a spoken word piece, exactly the type of bongo playing fare that will have club heads running for a chorus of Ay Bay Bay, Kweli intones “you can’t please everybody,” and the quietly echoing track Everything Man kicks in. Kweli breaks down his place in the game even further on Stay Around, inviting the crowd to tell him how to rhyme: ‘You should rap on beat/you should rap more street/you should never get your mack on please.” He’s heard it all and he’s not listening anymore. It’s no coincidence Kweli strikes the perfect balance on More Or Less, a track featuring his old partner Hi-Tek laying down expertly subtle production while Kweli tries to balance hip-hop; “more originality/less bitin off Pac and Big.” People who try to be everything to everyone end up false and bland, just look at any politician. You may not like his style but at least he’s not afraid to speak his mind.
Kweli’s undeniable lyrical expertise is a blessing and a curse. He’s so determined to get his point across his lyrics can trample the music, but on Eardrum he restrains himself in the right places (or at least he’s trying). The Just Blaze produced Hostile Gospel adds some percussive punch to a church choir sample while Kweli gives the beat room to breathe. His opening line is, “I call these rappers baby seals cause they club you to death/I can call em Navy Seals cause they government fed.” That’s more wordplay in two lines than Jim Jones has on an entire album (tell me it’s not true). Critics of this kind of mental workout will want to skip Eat To Live, a depressingly realistic reminder that children are starving in America. Listen, you don’t drink Pabst Blue Ribbon at the club and you don’t drink champagne at a backyard cookout. There’s nothing wrong with either one, figure out what you're in the mood for and make sure you’re drinking in moderation.
Make no mistake, Kweli doesn’t spend all his time thinking about the socio-political structure, he also loves women. Will.I.Am. continues his My Humps/I Got It From My Moma streak on the purely enjoyable Hot Thing, a smoothly bouncing track Kweli turns into an ode to strong and sexy women. He also hooks up with Kanye West for In The Mood, a jazzy 20’s sounding track. The collaboration is unavoidably disappointing, either because their previous collaboration Get Em High set the bar so high or Kanye sounds bored on his verse. Probably both.
The constantly revolving list of producers and guest artists on Eardrum keep Kweli from sounding repetitive, a problem for the sometimes monotone MC. His flow is addictively cadenced on Country Cousins, a head nodding joint with U.G.K. that’s also a New York/Southern alliance. His work with Justin Timberlake, The Nature, falters mostly because it’s just hard to sympathize JT when he sings “it’s kind of hard to keep faith in the things that you do/ when everybody turn their back on you.” Being a famous white millionaire is tough huh? Kweli also proves he’s one of the only rappers on the planet that can hold their own in a booth with KRS-One on The Perfect Beat. Ultimately Kweli made an album just for him, and in doing so should find his widest audience yet. Is it irony or poetic justice? Let me get out my dictionary…on second thought I think I’ll turn up the volume and let Eardrum blast. Sometimes you have to stop thinking and just enjoy music.
Listen to More: Talib Kweli Written by Nathan S.
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Where It All Started ft. Jadakiss, Talib Kweli & Papoose" (2006)
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