Honestly I had some trepidation when I heard Talib Kweli was dropping an LP, mostly because of his single Upper Echelon. The lyrics were OK, but the beat was very distracting. The paring of the “club banger” instrumental with the socially conscience emcee for was a bit off for me. That being said, I know why it was done. This 90s vet knows that a radio track is the best form of pub for the rest of the album. What a relief to find out that he didn't water down his lyrics or features to cater to the new generation of hip-pop listeners. His production selection is on point, from vets like RZA to new super producers like J Cole to monsters like Oh No. His features are also minimal, but carefully selected. And yes, the “less is more” mantra is true in many art forms, hip-hop is no exception.
His “intro” track Human Mic is a masterful juxtaposition of rapid lyrics with a soulful instrumental full of violins. The Blacksmith shows us yet again why he is the epitome of consistent: “Throw it back cognac, I’m the best, you know that/ You can have your own opinion, but not your own facts/ On track as the most prolific ever, the most consistently/ Vicious, New York can rip you, be ripping it like the Shredder.” Talib Kweli asserts his lyrical prowess throughout most of the track, relentlessly attacking the mic: “When it comes to this rhyming, I’m a legend like Tutankhamun/ or the Chupacabra, the way I weave it together and tie the knot up.”
Turnt Up was another surprise track. No features from Wacka Flocka, Soulja Boy or 2 Chainz here, just another old school lamping type instrumental. The beat starts off with a Paid in Full sample, so Talib gives the shout out “You know what’s up with me man, I’m trying to get paid in full.” He continues the homage with his first bars: “Thinking of a master plan, where there’s nothing but cash inside my hand.” While he does spend a few bars talking about cars, cribs and jewels, the lyrics do not suffer from the subject matter. “It’s hard not consuming all the bullshit they feed us/ Intravenous like a cord to the womb from the fetus/ Been hard since I started reading, alliteration is literally littered trough my DNA swimming on through my semen.”
Just in case you were comatose through the first part of the LP, The Blacksmith drops the hardest verse on the 7th track Hold It Now. Starting off with the metaphor “Got a buzz like I’m Georgia Tech,” he continues by letting other emcees know that “My rep established, I’m rapping just for the sport of it/ Been nice for a whole career, you just barely grasping the thought of it.” He ends the verse with some of the toughest bars I've heard from him in a while: “My rhyme is satisfying your quest for fire like Ray Don/ Chun when I’m forming like Voltron, I’m young Raekwon/ Mix in a bit of KRS-One and Q-Tip/ Rakim, some of that Ice Cube, now who’s this?/ No one as gifted as this, so magnificent/ Classically consistent, I’m nasty as black licorice/ Coldest but I get the room hotter than Bikram Yoga/ Seen the show, you know I make the people move like an eviction notice/ I’m focused, I’m like Moses when the mic is on/ That’s why these rapper scatter like roaches when the light is on.” What more can I say? Fuego.
You know what you are going to get with a Talib release. Lyrically, he is sharper than ever. His poetic catalog is an onslaught of metaphors, alliterations, personifications and rhyme. He can be introspective one minute, and still deliver the braggadocios bars that are commonly associated with hip-hop. None of his albums stay on one subject matter and this is true for Prisoner of Conscience. He has tracks that examine his relationship with a strong female counterpart (Delicate Flowers) as well as a story about a female struggling with a dependent mentality with Hamster Wheel. The track Push Thru is one of his heavier featured songs. Curren$y delivers the first verse which is followed by Talib Kweli and Kendrick Lamar takes the last leg of the song. I am not the biggest Curren$y fan but I do follow this career more than other 2nd tier (or whatever you want to categorize him as) emcees. That being said his verse is solid. And K Dot delivers another strong verse to add under his belt of features (this verse is apparently an old verse, way before most people were on Kendrick like that). Talib has always been known to tackle large social issues within the hip-hop community and beyond. With Prisoner of Conscience he seems to be trying to tackle more intimate themes like the before mentioned tracks Delicate Flower and Hamster Wheel. We still get his upper echelon lyrics and perspective, so I would say that this is a successful attempt to relate to his existing fan base as well as new listeners. Once again quality is delivered (come on BLACKSTAR! hip-hop needs you!).
Peep album below.
Peep album below.