Artist: Talib KweliTitle: The Beautiful StruggleRating: 3 StarsReviewed by: Jozen Cummings
Since bursting onto hip-hop’s underground scene in 1998, Talib Kweli has been a slow burner among many hot flashes. From his debut as one half of the rap duo Black Star onto his 2001 solo debut Quality, with Reflection Eternal DJ Hi-Tek in between, Kweli has been one of the more prolific members of the Okayplayer clique. Unfortunately with proficiency, an artist’s bar is raised. After experiencing mainstream success with Quality’s#### single “Get By,” and Jay-Z’s praise, the pressure to deliver more of the same with his latest album, The Beautiful Struggle (Rawkus), has hit a boiling point. And while parts of this album come out just right, some parts remain undercooked.
The problem with Struggle is not Kweli; rather, it’s the time’s we are living in that makes this album tough to grasp. The fact is what was underground in 1998 (and some would even say in 2001) is now hindering on the mainstream. All this is not to say that Kweli’s stream of consciousness is unnecessary, because it still is in many ways. But just like critics chastise gangster rappers for not diversifying their topics and having no range, the same can be said for Kweli and the conscious soapbox he continues to rhyme on. Nowadays it’s cool to be underground, and because of this trend, Kweli’s music isn’t as refreshing as it once was.
On “I Try,” produced by Kanye West, Kweli and West try to reproduce the magic of “Get By” with a soulful piano loop, but with a drum beat that lacks depth, and an unnecessary Mary J. Bilge singing on the hook, the two men will have to try harder next time. The rising R&B star John Legend also makes a cameo on the cheesy “Around My Way,” which sounds like it was produced by Yanni, but in actuality, it was Charlemagne who laced the beat.
Where The Beautiful Struggle is truly beautiful is on tracks like “We Got the Beat,” a song that finds Kweli’s rapid fire flow spitting verbal bravado over screeching heavy metal guitars, and a “Planet Rock”-esque drum pattern. On the Just Blaze produced “Never Been in Love,” Kweli professes to a special lady that his days of neo-soul club groupies are over, and he is now a one-woman man. The song’s sing-a-long hook is catchy, with Kweli telling said girl, “I used to be a player and/all of this is new to me/and this ain’t what I’m used to see.” “Broken Glass” is another highlight, doing a better job of harkening the magic of “Get By” by blending wise rhymes with a club ready beat.
In the end, The Beautiful Struggle delivers enough good music for Kweli’s loyal fan base to chew on and be satisfied. But whereas Quality had a strong focus that made sleepers wake up, The Beautiful Struggle does not, which means the struggle continues, if only for one more album.