Veteran emcee Talib Kweli has finally released his long-delayed fifth studio album, Prisoner of Conscious.
The LP, released through Javotti Media/Caroline, features previously-released singles "Push Thru" and "Upper Echelon," "Come Here," "High Life" and "Rocket Ships." Joining Kweli on the set are notable guest features Busta Rhymes, Curren$y, Kendrick Lamar, Marsha Ambrosius, Melanie Fiona, Miguel and Nelly, while production credits go to Harry Fraud, Oh No, S1 and more.
Stream Prisoner of Conscious
DJBooth Album Review
Considering all that, do I really have to explain why he chose to name his new album Prisoner of Conscious? Especially considering his recent work with Idle Warship, Kweli seems determined to simply make the music he wants to, pressures on him to be a “conscious” rapper, whatever that means, be damned. After all, if now, when?
It’s an artistisic mission statement from Kweli that will likely give some of my fellow nostalgists hip-hop heart palpitations when pressing play on Prisoner for the first time; I’m here to tell those people relax, breathe, it’s all going to be fine. In fact, Kweli is sure to lay all your fears to rest from the get-go as he absolutely destroys Human Mic. Kweli’s rhyme style has always been “as many dope words per bar as possible” and in trademark form he fills every second of Human Mic with a barrage of lyrical firepower, a feat he repeats on Rocket Ships, along with Busta Rhymes, and the narrative-driven Hamster Wheel. I mean, the man even rhymes over Erik B.’s classic Paid in Full sample on Turnt Up. Come on, even the most pessimistic backpacker has to applaud that one.
So there, now that we’ve labeled Prisoner of Conscious hip-hop head friendly, let’s spend the rest of the review rendering any easy labels meaningless; this is certainly his most sonically diverse album ever. From Brown Skin Lady to Hot Thing, Kweli has never been a stranger to romantic rap, and Prisoner certainly isn’t afraid to push into R&B territory. Come Here, featuring the seemingly unstoppable Miguel, is as smooth as anything he’s ever done, and It Only Gets Better, Ready, Set, Go and bonus track Outstanding manage to seamlessly blend some gorgeous R&B hooks into a more hip-hop foundation. But those are still relatively predictable offerings compared to a track like Favela Love, which brings on Brazilian singer Seu Jorge for a bi-lingual love song that isn't afraid to take some real risks. Seriously, name the last time you heard an artist let someone sing in Portuguese?
Equally risky but on the opposite end of the smoothness spectrum is the more trap music influenced Upper Echelon, which is the album’s only real stumble. Prisoner of Conscious largely works because while Kweli is obviously determined to challenge ideas around the kind of music he “should” be making, he never lets his desire to prove his point overshadow his desire to make good music; except for Echelon. Lord knows I’m not going to doubt that Kweli is capable of making a true trap banger, but Echelon isn't that banger. Both the beat and Kweli’s rhymes sound disappointingly flat, but in some ways the fact that Echelon falls short is a good thing – it means he was genuinely trying to make a leap.
In some ways Kweli must feel like he can’t win, and he’s right. No matter how dope his new music is, I’ll always love Train of Thought more, simply because that’s the music that’s inextricably intertwined with my memories. There’s nothing he can do about it, except continue to evolve and challenge not only himself but hip-hop, and with Prisoner of Conscious he’s done just that. So maybe the least we can do for Kweli in return for all those memories is join him in the present instead of becoming stuck in the past. I’m trying…
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 05/8/13
Related Songs & Features
When I hear the phrase “Turnt Up,” I think of Southern rappers dropping ig’nant rhymes over jackhammer beats. I most definitely do not think of Talib Kweli. Far as the Brooklyn vet’s latest single might be...
Fresh off garnering positive reader reviews for last week’s High Life, Talib Kweli is already back on our pages with another fresh cut off his forthcoming full-length. The science-fictional imagery evoked by Rocket...
For most of us, the daily grind doesn’t involve flying around the globe, soaking in the sights and sounds of each of the world’s premier cities. Fortunately, we’ve got Talib Kweli to fill us in on what...
Hip-hop veteran Talib Kweli may be a Prisoner of Conscious but, on the bright side, he’s permitted the occasional conjugal visit. On Come Here, the latest single off his fifth studio album, the Brooklyn emcee offers us...
In an industry full of underachievers, you can count on Talib Kweli to come with that Upper Echelon sh*t. Fresh off claiming the top spot on the DJBooth’s Top Indie Chart with his recently-released Push Thru (Marco Polo...
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Where It All Started ft. Jadakiss, Talib Kweli & Papoose" (2006)
Member Reviews and Ratings
- Jeezy - Seen It All: The Autobiography
- Cam’ron - 1st of the Month Vol. 3 EP
- Best/Worst of the Week: Andre 3000 All Day, Queen Bey Reigns & More
- Draft Day: What Label Should Your Favorite Rapper Sign To?
- DJ Blaze - Blazing Cuts (August 2014)
- Kev Decor - Swamp Ass
- “Views from All Day”: Drake, Kanye & The State of Hip-Hop Leaks
- Drake vs. Lil Wayne - The Hits
- The Best Hip-Hop & R&B Songs of 2014 (Ongoing)
- Even More Porn Stars in Music Videos (NSFW)