Talib Kweli is a name that I've heard knocked around for quite a few years now. This knowledge of him came around at a time when the world at large,and therefore the world of music,was beginning to circle back around to a more forward thinking point of few. Hip-hop music emerged in the pop world roughly around the time I was born. It was "alternative music": an alternative to commercial considerations forced upon many other artists in the post disco era. Its progressed and regressed alternately and in phases. It began with a party crew mentality similar to disco. Grandmaster Flash & Melle Melle changed all that. Then came Run DMC,LL Cool J,Def Jam and hip-hop (or rap as most people called it then) reached its commercial peak. The 90's bought a musical maelstrom of bitter gangsta rap,the "daisy age" hip-hop of the Bohemian fringe and conscious/political hop-hop. After 9/11,that holding pattern in the music took hold. After the 2008 election,hip-hop has again begun to move forward. That movement-reflected by the works of Common and the like, is moving the genre forward towards a heavier album oriented medium people like OutKast were on the threshold of in the late 90's with records such as [[ASIN:B00000BKI1 Aquemini]. And Talib Kweli,an artist whom I've never actually heard is making his own contributions to that progression of hip-hop with this new album.
The album starts out with "Human Mic",a beautifully cinematic loop of orchestration and piano where Talib lays out his creative manifesto for all to hear. The Brooklyn natives' home city of NYC,Tutankhamun,Chubacabra's and other references both realistic and relevatory are blended together in hi fast paced,busy-voiced style of rapping. That same flavor continues on "Come Here" with Rubix and Bajah and "Ready Set Go" with vocals by Melanie Fiona. "Turnt Up" is an example of hip-hop sampling itself with the spare 808 style beats of Eric B and Rakim making up the template which is with no irony about Talib taking hip-hop into a new place inspired less by money and more by talent and ambition of the original hip-hop crews. "Come Here" is an inspired romantic soul music courting ritual-blended the honeyed Marvin Gaye-style vocals of Miguel with Talib's strong rhyming flow. On the G-funk like flow of "Hold It Now" and the even strong grooving "Push Thru",notably featuring Kendrick Lamar he is again on the topic of chasing ones dreams rather than chasing money. "Hamster Wheel",with its stomping funky soul style completely de-glamorizes the hard ghetto culture,with its degradation and vice,using the subtext of a young nubile African American woman. "Delicate Flowers",in similarly rhythmic funky soul manner illustrates the opposite character: a lady too overconfident in her femininity to see the male point of view in a relationship.
On the heavy handed horn funk of "Rocket Ships),Talib and Busta Rhymes rap about the un-humanistic relationship some people have allowed themselves to have with modern technology. "Before He Walked",with singer Abby Dobson and Nelly is a beautifully gospel/soul inspired cinematic aural adventure-referencing Buddy Bolden,the earliest acknowledged jazz musician from the 19th century,as an example to the current generation that ones music should be a vehicle to inspire. It functions as the highest level of hip-hop "people music",the name I give to humanistic message songs. "Favela",with singer Seu Jorge has a strong,deep rhodes electric piano jazzy funk flavor to it-full of heavy romantic comes on's. The album ends with the layered percussive groove of "It Only Get's Better",with the British singer Marsha Ambrosius offers up more thoughtful "people music" with a more spiritual angle. It is the electro/boogie inspired synth looped "Upper Echelon" that typifies the concept of the entire album which,of course is helped massively with the inclusion of a clear lyric booklet. Talib Kweli is taking on the classic soul/funk/R&B quest to find the middle ground between the secular and the spiritual,of the knowable and unknowable. His rhyming flow evokes both an artful and thoughtful type mindset that also maintains a strong street level identification with the listener. While some profanity and very mild misogyny are sprinkled into the lyrics,even that seems to come from an outsider's perspective. Even for conscious hip-hop,this is very much music for the thinking and the thoughtful. And I personally wish to thank Talib Kweli for putting something like this into the hip-hop world: strong fertilizer to keep that genre's garden blooming with more colorful flowers.