Perhaps when Talib Kweli recently defended Rick Ross’ reprehensible lyrics on U.E.O.N.O by calling him “misguided” he did so in a glimpse of projection and subconscious self-reflection. Both may have a tad more in common than the average would assume in terms of identity issues, so while Rick Ross’ latest offering is tentatively titled Mastermind, Talib’s is called prisoner of consciousness.
There may not be a more fitting title for this album, as Kweli strays from his typical social commentary and goes for more commercial appeal…but shows he’s very conscious of the line that represents full mainstream accessibility and acceptance and stands far from it.
It’s not as if the Brooklyn wordsmith is less lyrically inclined, his trademark rapid-fire rasp is still in full force throughout the 15 track effort. He still drops metaphors with the deft of LeBron James dropping the ball into the cup, and still relentlessly mows through drums with astounding assonance.
On the Melanie Fiona assisted “Ready Set Go” Kweli openly ponders, “What if I listened to haters and never bothered hittin’ high water marks ’cause the markets flooded with garbage?” in a dazzling display that accentuates his reputation as a top notch lyricist.
The “Paid in Full” inspired “Turnt Up” finds Kweli ripping through those famous drums (augmented with an entrancing vocal harmony) with vigor, staking his claim and preventing the song from being a novelty. On “Push Thru” he outflows Currensy and goes toe to toe with Compton kingpin Kendrick Lamar, he who’s widely considered the best lyricist in Hip-Hop.
It’s not that Kweli has declined in any sense of the word, when he’s on, he’s ON. It’s just that on this album those moments are few and far between. The album spends a notable amount of time trying to grab the fairer sex’s attention. In one instance Talib discusses the highs and lows of courting with R&B ingenue Miguel on “Come Here“, and he tackles relationship issues on “Hamster Wheel”. Each are lyrically dense narratives, but therein lies the problem.
As versatile as Kweli has proven himself content wise through the years, he’s also historically maintained the same delivery no matter the beat. When one is straying from their artistic comfort zone, it’d seem like they’d go all the way. Talib Kweli just doesn’t have the charisma to consistently and engage the top 40 listener. That’s not a bad thing, but it is when you spend the core of an album trying to.
The production consistently delivers, however Talib doesn’t always. When it comes to mass appeal in 2013 the cold truth is that there is just more to it than lyrics alone, and Kweli seems unwilling to experiment with his flow or delivery, and that results in a lopsided album. Most artists would accept an album containing a bulk of tracks successful due to their trademark qualities with a few reachers that may not connect, but this is just the opposite.
Unfortunately Talib Kweli’s attempted prison break from consciousness wasn’t entirely successful.