Review Summary: Ear Drum was a departure from his usual routine and if he had stuck with the usual we may have something close to a classic on our hands. But sadly we have an experiment that went wrong.
Talib Kweli has been in search of something. Tired of the predictable and commercialized genre that Hip-hop is today Talib Kweli is in search of the answer. Through this answer he is looking for a way to bring "true" Hip-hop into the light of millions and give an alternative to the gun touting, drug dealing embrace that Hip-hop is known for.
For Talib this has not been an easy battle though. Boosted by his hit "Get By", on the album Quality he seemed to have since not gotten the same flare as before. From his overlooked but lacking Beautiful Struggle album to his disappointing Right About Now mixtape Talib has failed in finding commercial success like Kanye West, but with the same classic material as his Reflection Eternal days. Through this comes Eardrum one of the first albums to come out on his newly created record label Blacksmith Music.
Though the album itself has been hyped up by Talib himself for many months by appearing on shows like Wild 'N Out the album seems to be a major departure from Talib's former album patter. Talib instead of having a small track listing boast an odd 20 track listing. His large inventory is not bad but asks the question; Why so many? What happened to quality over quantity? What is he trying to do?
These questions confuse even more when the whole album is finished. The first track, Everything Man, brings you in with the poetic voice of Sonia Sanchez over fitting African drums, and as she ends Madlib's beautiful production slides in to provide the perfect backdrop for Talib to playfully spit his usual prowess on the intro of the album. Madlib reappears later in the album on, Eat To Live, as he again pulls you in with a soulful and smooth beat. Talib again does this track justice as he begins to tell a story about a child’s life in the ghetto. He then goes into talking about not only the innutritious food that we are served literally, but by how we are served garbage by the media and critics.
Finally Madlib, assisted by Eric Krasno, appears on the track Soon The New Day. The beat is smooth and banging as Talib again plays with it as he shows his lyrical proficiency on the laid back track, and makes you pray that there will be a "Liberation 2" (cross your fingers). Another reunion appears as Hi-Tek produces More Or Less. Although the beat is pretty simple, and Talib does an below average job flow wise his lyrics are on point and gives a taste of "Refection Eternal 2" (man come out with at least this one Talib). Sadly this is the only Hi-Tek production on the album which seems kind of odd also.
Other producers come in like Just Blaze, Hostile Gospel Pt. 1 (Deliver Us), who brings in a banging track for Talib to pretty much destroy and shows a great combination of the two. Kanye makes an appearance on the track In The Mood and surprisingly steals the show with his witty wordplay. Legendary Pete Rock brings in a soulful and blasting track on Holy Moly, as Talib bounces around the track easily complementing the beat. The Talib and Pete show stops there as they try to do a repeat on Stay Around. Though as the beat is decent Talib seems to sometimes get lost and confused in the beat, and doesn’t deliver on the hook either.
More disappointment shows through the album though as Talib hooks up with Jean Grae and will.i.am to create an utter disaster on Say Something. Not only is the beat disappointing, but Jean Grae or Talib have a hard time finding the it, and the odd subject matter of their threatening someone to "say something" makes this track a must skip. Will.i.am tries again on Hot Thing, which is not as bad as Say Something, but predictable and really nothing special.
Talib hooks up with a few guests on this album also. On the track Country Cousins Talib joints UGK and Raheem Devaughn, who’s voice sounds soulful over the average but fitting beat. Talib does and run of the mill job as he tries his hand at a rapid rapping style but only comes off as trying to keep up with the beat itself. Bun B has the best verse but nothing special and as usual Pimp C tries but does a sub par job of rapping.
On Give 'Em Hell, Coi Mattison, and Lyfe Jennings, bring in smooth vocals on what lyrically is one of the most powerful track on the album where he deals with the different conflicts and issues in religion. Surprising, KRS-One delivers an amazing guest spot on, The Perfect Beat, as the teacher of the old is rapping with the teacher of the new to provide a good back and forth combination that shows KRS-One is not out of his prime. Even Musiq comes in to a track that at first starts off a little weak ends with you bobbing your head.
All the features are not well though as Go With Us featuring Strong Arm Steady although is not a bad track, just doesn’t seem like it should have been on this album and seems a little forced. And the last track The Nature featuring Justin Timberlake although shows Justin’s touch into production seems forced, dated, and boring as Justin lazily sings the hook and Talib crawls though his verses as if this track is too easy.
Eardrum is not a bad album by any means, it has some gems and is a must buy for any Talib fan, but through the 20 track listing, the sometimes confusing production, and experimental flow of Talib this album doesn’t show his true potential. It just shows Talib in search of commercial success, and sadly he still has not found the right mix. Eardrum was a departure from his usual routine and if he had stuck with the usual we may have something close to a classic on our hands. But sadly we have an experiment that went wrong.