Last week, I discussed Common’s ascension into mainstream culture, and how he compared to his fellow “backpackers.” Almost coincidentally, Talib Kweli readied the release of Eardrum, a collection of songs he released through his MySpace page as well as songs that could have / would have / should have but didn’t become singles. Yet, the product of this past year and the constant push-backs show the growth Talib Kweli’s shown since Quality.
Unlike other artists, he never missed a step. His last album, Liberation with Madlib, was free and readily available to the public via Internet. He’s kept constant visibility through innovative marketing and appearances in nearly every city in the world, it seems. Eardrum is a growth of sorts for him, as it contains the smooth sound engineering of rap records from mainstream artists, but has the earthy and hard hitting tone of his previous work.
He gets in touch with his core fans with an intro from the critically acclaimed poet Sonia Sanchez on “Everything Man,” a Madlib-produced song. The album then jumps into “NY Weather Report,” a Nick Speed-produced song reaffirming his swag and style many of his fans have come to love. Songs like “Say Something” with the lyrically intense Jean Grae (and that’s a compliment) in the beginning set a great tone for the album. These songs serve to reintroduce the world to Talib Kweli and his Blacksmith movement.
At his best, he can interweave his personal experiences with any subject he chooses. He delves deeply into the religious with songs like “Hostile Gospel Pt. 1” and “Holy Moly.” He discusses romance and spits something to the ladies on “Hot Thing,” featuring and produced by will.i.am, and “In The Mood,” featuring the legendary Roy Ayers and an impressive verse and beat by Kanye West. He also discusses the state of the world around him in “More or Less” (Hi-Tek produced), “Eat to Live,” and “Hostile Gospel Pt. 2” (DJ Khalil produced with a surprising Sizzla feature).
Yet, no album can be immaculate. While the rap verses on “Country Cousins” featuring UGK and Raheem DeVaughn were great and exemplified the diversity of the album, the chorus on the song sounded more like a ploy to reach into his Southern base rather than a genuine effort. (I’m sure that wasn’t the intention, but that’s how it came out.) Also, the chorus for “Give ‘Em Hell” was lacking despite having singers Coi Matteson and Lyfe Jennings on deck. The album ends with “The Nature” featuring and produced by Justin Timberlake; a part of me wishes it hadn’t. It was an awkward and unnecessary ending to an otherwise impressive album. I would have liked to see "Listen," the first of many singles that weren't singles, be his last song, which might have made for a more appropriate ending. Outside of those little bumps, the road down this album is rather scenic and avant-garde.
In Talib Kweli’s career, he’s been known to experiment with flows, beats he rhymes on, and artists he works with. This album still incorporates that feeling, yet he also reminds people why his fans regard him so highly; he truly is an artist with his words and his music represents a hope for balance in the hip-hop community. With other features like Norah Jones, Strong Arm Steady, KRS-One, and Sa-Ra, and production from Just Blaze, KWAME, Pete Rock, and Hi-Tek, one could only wonder if this album would be much too overcrowded to have any album continuity.
Fortunately, it has that continuity, and then some. Kweli has proven that he can hold down an album all his own, but having this collection of talent makes this album all the more potent. In other words, go get that.