In a recent magazine interview, Talib Kweli Greene admitted to being somewhat uncomfortable with putting out a true solo album. The self-described team player misses his homeboys Mos Def and DJ Hi Tek, with whom he shares membership in two groups — Black Star and Reflection Eternal, respectively. Instead of offering the usual “I took this album to the next level” rhetoric, Kweli’s admission actually hints at a possible lack of confidence in his ability to go it alone.
Listening to the album on the strength of his track record, one can wonder if this is the case. Luckily, hints can be misleading. After opening with a two-minute introduction by comedian Dave Chapelle (which is funny but a bit long), Kweli launches into a celebration that lasts seven cuts before slowing down. The sequencing between “Rush” (Track 2) and “Joy” (Track 7) is flawless. It hits like Lavar Arrington, and vocally takes the listener through thought processes as angry and honest as the culturally self-reflective “Get By” and the hardcore commentary of “Gun Music,” and finally to one of the most detailed story of fatherhood ever heard from an MC.
It’s after “Joy” that the album slows down and changes moods. This switch might lose some listeners, because the opening pace is so addictive. “Talk To You” is drawn out, and Bilal fails to do justice to a rendition of David Peaston’s “Can I.” Surprisingly, the following track, “Guerrilla Monsoon Rap,” is the weakest track on the album. Verses by Black Thought and Pharoahe Monch make it interesting, but barely save it.
The remainder of the album is effectively moody. DJ Quik adds his trademark West Coast funk with “Put It In The Air,” a definite club banger. Kweli then revisits the Reflection Eternal vibe on cuts like “The Proud” and “Stand To The Side,” before knocking you out with “Good To You.”
Kweli gets an A-minus for his lyrical ability. You gotta love a cat who comes up with lines like “The president’s a Bush/The vice president’s a dick/So a whole lotta fuckin’ is what we gon’ get.” That’s priceless, worthy of any family political debate. He gets a B for total production. Not everyone will stick with the moodiness of the album. Nine producers, 15 songs. That’s a lot of diversity to manage, but Kweli keeps it in stride. He’s got no reason to be skeptical about having to go for self.
E-mail Khary Kimani Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org.