Review Summary: Talib wows with an album full of energetic showcases of alternative hip-hop at its best, as well as some deeply moving calmer tracks.Talib Kweli
"If skills sold, truth be told, I'd probably be, lyricly, Talib Kweli" - Jay-Z
In 1998, Talib Kweli collaborated with childhood friend and fellow MC Mos Def to record Black Star
, one of the decade’s greatest achievements in not only alternative rap but all of hip-hop in general. Two years later, he would again release a collaborative effort, this time with Hi-Tek, and while Kweli did most of the vocal work on the album, it still was not credited as a solo album. By now many fans were more than anxious for the Brooklyn rapper to put something out with his name on it. Enter 2002, and Talib’s solo debut, Quality
. The album sported diversity in samples and beats that were powered by Kweli’s powerful lyrics and tenacious lyrical flow, and is one of the more remarkable hip-hop efforts of the new decade.
While this isn’t a mainstream rap album that is going to have you getting low etc, Quality is very lively and full of emotion of all sorts, whether it be the rugged and adrenaline-pumping Rush
, the highly infectious Get By
, or the dark and gloomy Where Do We Go
. Instruments featured range from guitars and keys to trumpets, violins and the always present percussions. Samples borrowed have a strong R&B feel that is a key component of all of Kweli’s music, and it has indeed become a recognizable characteristic of the MC. His style is more animated than many in the alternative rap scene, and his lyrical flow resembles that of both Kanye and Jay-Z (Kanye actually produced this album). The latter has frequently complemented Kweli’s ability to rap about what matters, rather than what sells. Talib set this image for himself after the mind-boggling Black Star
, and it was only reinforced on Quality
. When an MC can encompass a multitude of inner-city issues and the overall inner-city life all while attacking the hip-hop media in a single poem, it is truly an astounding accomplishment. This is in reference to Get By
, possibly and deservingly the hip-hop anthem of the new millennium. In addition to the profound subject matter are its undeniably catchy chorus and perfectly fitting beat, as well as some slick rhymes that provide a breath of fresh air in a world of stale contemporaries. This song alone warrants endless respect and analysis, but the rest of the album isn’t half bad either. While very few other tracks will shine nearly as bright as Get By
, there are hardly any weak spots on the album, with the beginning proving to be much more danceable and the latter half primarily serious and more lyrical-based. It isn’t a complete yin-yang though, as there are some dynamic moments near the end as well as some calmer ones in the beginning.
Every once in a while there is excessive “I’m the greatest rapper in the world” coming out of Talib’s mouth. Not in those exact words, and not with quite so much hubris, but along the lines of “I can rap better than you”. Unlike other mainstream rappers though (cough Lil Wayne), Talib backs up these concise boasts with plenty of lyrical brilliance. He really shouldn’t be ripped on for these moments as he really isn’t that kind of rapper, but it would make the album near flawless if his eloquent poetry wasn’t separated by tracks chock full of rap-battle status verses. I must confess that I had quite a laugh at this little section from Put It in the Air
“Tell the hater players put a sock in it!
Proper ****, that you got to get, cause we properly document
How cats look more like ***** than the Washington monument!”
It really isn’t so much that these bits are poorly executed; it’s just that they don’t fit in with the rest of the album. Call it variety but one can’t proudly reflect upon these moments, unlike the more emotional tracks on the disc. The Proud
is a truly inspiring and mesmerizing set of incidents of terrorism and violence that contained racist propaganda, including the government originally blaming Islamic terrorists for the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Brooklyn case of a drunken cop killing an entire family but walking out of court without bail. He continues to describe the terrible world we are living in which Talib has to explain to his son that people won’t treat him properly because of the color of his skin. The song ends with the September 11th attacks, but instead the MC commends the people of the United States for coming together at Ground Zero in the very worst of times and saving lives. This is honestly one of the more moving songs I’ve ever listened to.
Before picking up this album, it’s good to note that guest performances and vocal samples will play a huge role in all of Talib Kweli’s music. This isn’t straight up rap, although the verses are soaked with some of the best rhymes in the business. The album is also quite lengthy, but most songs are so different that it never really gets boring for a fan of the genre. Expect a lot of serious subject matter but a plateful of easy-going songs as well. Simply put, this is a man rapping about what he wants to rap about just to get by
rather than selling out, and all the while doing a marvelous job.
Where Do We Go