(AllHipHop News) “It’s about growth now. We have to grow, and that’s the point,” recites Talib Kweli on the call-and-response intro to his latest album Prisoner Of Conscious. Now on his 5th solo LP, Kweli seems to be on a mission to escape the confinement of labels.
P.O.C. still contains the Brooklyn emcee’s prolific lyrical talent that he has demonstrated since his debut on Black Star with Mos Def, but this time around Kweli has moved a way from the social-political themes of past projects in favor of a more personal approach to his songwriting. In order for Kweli to challenge himself as an artist and to reflect his reach as an international performer, this collection of work was created with a feel of universal relatability.
“On this album, the tracks I picked and the amount of live instrumentation I used was a little more focused on the world and me being a musician of the world rather than me just being a Hip-Hop artist from Brooklyn,” says Kweli.
Talib’s affection for diverse musical sounds is displayed with the electronic energy of “Upper Echelon,” the Afrobeat-inspired “High Life” featuring Massinfluence’s Rubix & Sierra Leonean Hip-Hop crew Bajah, and “Favela Love,” a collaboration with noted Brazilian musician/actor Seu Jorge.
While Prisoner of Conscious does take the listener around the globe, Kweli made sure to showcase a homegrown Hip-Hop and R&B accent as well. “Rocketships” gives Talib, and guest Busta Rhymes, an opportunity to tackle the dark, drum-heavy production of RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan. The New Yorker taps New Orleans native Curren$y and Los Angeles resident Kendrick Lamar for the tri-coastal “Push Thru” produced by Symbolyc One. Collaborations with Miguel, Melanie Fiona, Marsha Ambrosius, and Ryan Leslie bring a soulful flavor to their respective tracks.
In total, there are 13 credited featured artists on P.O.C. which is the most guest appearances for any Talib Kweli solo album. According to Kweli, his intention on 2002’s Quality, 2004’s The Beautiful Struggle, 2007’s Eardrum, and 2011’s Gutter Rainbows was to share his distinct vision, but after over 15 years in the game Kweli did not feel bound to only concentrating on his own perspective for this project.
“A lot of times with my solo albums, I’ve focused on making sure you really heard my voice, and this time I didn’t bother with that,” says Kweli. “Whenever I thought about wanting to work with someone I said, ‘let me just hit them up and let me see if they’d be into it.’ So I was a lot freer in the decision-making process than I’ve normally been.”
One collab that may surprise some longtime Kweli fans is the song “Before He Walked” with Nelly, but Kweli believes the St. Louis rapper’s verse could shock some listeners.
“I think it’s interesting, because people don’t usually get to hear Nelly being introspective,” says Kweli. “I think he’s a great musician, and I think people are going to really like what he contributed to the album.”
Beyond working with other musicians, Kweli has also enlisted the talents of visual artists. Prisoner Of Conscious’ physical packaging will include artwork from various painters, graphic designers, and photographers.
“The album cover is the back of a canvas that somebody would paint on. Inside the album cover are actual pieces of art that artists have done,” reveals Kweli. “It’s people’s different interpretations of what ‘prisoner of conscious’ means.”
The art component was curated by Jeff Staple of the highly successful creative consulting firm Staple Design. Kweli contacted Staple through Twitter about designing the cover for Prisoner Of Conscious. Eventually, Staple met with Kweli in the studio, and the two discussed their interpretations of the album’s title.
After realizing each had a different idea of what “prisoner of conscious” meant, Staple came up with the idea of letting different artists define the phrase in their own way. Allister Lee, Chris Mendoza, Eric Haze, Felicia Douglass, James Jean, Sophia Chang, and Chuck Anderson of No Pattern all contributed to the project.
“I chose artists that all have been greatly influenced by Hip-Hop and Kweli in particular,” says Staple. “The result is almost as if Kweli had given a brief to the artists and asked them to envision what a ‘prisoner of conscious’ looks like to them.”
In a way, P.O.C. is a new beginning for Kweli. The 37-year-old emcee has been working on the album for four years (some of the early recordings like “I’m On One” and “Cold Rain” ended up on Gutter Rainbows), and in that time he reunited with Hi-Tek for Revolutions per Minute, released a mixtape and album with Res as Idle Warship, and dropped the free solo project Attack the Block.
Even with that impressive amount of varied work added to his résumé recently, Kweli was still motivated to push himself beyond the “conscious rapper” tag constantly placed on him with Prisoner of Conscious.
“My music gives you a message, true and respect is due, but music is emotion that’s lost on the intellectuals,” raps Kweli on “Before He Walked.”
With Prisoner Of Conscious, Talib Kweli invites the scholar, the world traveler, the artist, the Hip-Hop head, the R&B fan, and every other member of the global community to his personal celebration of musical freedom.
Talib Kweli’s Prisoner Of Conscious will be released on Tuesday, May 7th.
Watch the videos for “Push Thru” featuring Curren$y & Kendrick Lamar and “High Life” featuring Rubix & Bajah below.