Sunday, July 15, 2007

You Should Rap Like This, You Should Rap Like That

Talib Kweli - "Hostile Gospel"

Talib Kweli - "Country Cousins" featuring UGK

Talib Kweli - "In the Mood"

Talib Kweli - "More Or Less" featuring Dion

Talib Kweli - "Oh My Stars" featuring Musiq Soulchild
Eardrum, 2007

I know I’ve been gone awhile, and the game’s been missing me (just play along, ok?) so I apologize. I guess there just hasn’t been much in rap music that’s really grabbed me recently—sure, I’ve liked the odd single here and there (can’t get “Krispy” outta my head) but shit, I haven’t even gotten together the energy to listen to T.I. vs. T.I.P. yet, or even that new Kardinal mixtape that I’m actually excited about. The problem is, as shit piles up I end up feeling less entitled to listen to whatever’s new before I plow through all that other stuff. But, when I… copped (yeah, that’s it) the Eardrum advance the other day I just decided fuck it, I’d listen to it right away and stop burying myself under a gang of “to-listen” lists.

I hadn’t even been particularly excited about Eardrum, as the heroes of my old backpacker days had been pretty steadily disappointing over the last few years, and my own tastes have moved on real far. But I tried to give the new Kweli a chance, and it ended up surprising me a bit. On "Say Something" he spits "They say I’m back, but I ain’t go nowhere"... uh, Kweli, yes you did, but thankfully Eardrum is a return to form… but I'm not sure it's a form I care about anymore.

"I smack internet MC's and beat bloggers"? Eh, better than being smacked by a ho at a G-Unit party. Ok, that was too easy, but I've got it out of my snarky, internet-addled system now, so let's move on.

It’s hard to go back to a past version of myself that would hate who I’ve become insofar as music tastes are concerned. If my high school, backpacker self could see my current Weezy-jocking, “Wipe Me Down”-singing, immensely-annoyed-by-Mos Def self he would be shocked and appalled. But I decided to try to channel that version of me a little bit, because it was back then that I loved Talib Kweli. Truth be told, I was a major stan.

I’ve changed alot since then, but I do still bump Black Star, Reflection Eternal, and Kweli’s first album a good deal. So the question becomes, can Kweli do anything for me without the nostalgia factor involved? Short answer: yes, but I didn't like this album anywhere near as much as I would have a few years ago. His beat selection's improved, and he's still doing that "unfocused but conscious" thing that Noz hates so much, but he's doing it well again, in my opinion. The record didn't make too big an impression, but it was a good listen.

Things start off with the unsurprisingly low-key "Everything Man" where he laments how he can't be everything to everyone... thank God, this means he's back to his niche. But things really start to pick up with the Just Blaze produced "Hostile Gospel". The song's got some nice bombast and isn't particularly about anything, and it works. It's also an example of the album's main problem--in beats and rhymes the song's good, but there's nothing that'll really stick in your mind either. You won't be singing the hook, you won't be quoting the lyrics.

"Country Cousins" brings in a bootleg Pharrell singer to spice things up, along with UGK of course. I make no secret of loving UGK, but I think this is actually one of Kweli's best performances on the record. Maybe having the southern trailblazers there helps to even out the nostalgia so it doesn't turn into "grumpy old man rap" (which is its own sub-genre). A chill guitar driven, country-ass track doesn't hurt either.

Kweli, of course, goes deep into some conscious rap territory. I would've eaten up the "feed the kids" laced "Eat To Live" once upon a time, but now it all comes across as a little tired. Could be worse though. It's followed by "In the Mood", which picks up the pace a good deal. I liked this track, actually. A good vibe. But then after that comes "Soon the New Day", which has to feature motherfucking Norah Jones. Sigh. This story of one night stands and their upsides and downsides still would've worked, despite the added singer, if Talib hadn't felt the need to put in some fucking ridiculous cultural references here and there. Larry the Cable Guy, Kweli? Really? Is that what's up in the streets right now?

The major highlight of the album's second half comes in the form of "More Or Less", which is a reunion with Hi-Tek. It has some similarities to the earlier mentioned Just Blaze track though... so that probably says something. It's followed by "The Perfect Beat" which features KRS-One. Goddammit, why couldn't these two have made a song seven years ago when I was a cornball and they were my favorite MCs? It's not a bad collaboration, but the title is awfully strange for a pair of rappers whose major failing in recent years has been beat selection. Of course, they're not actually talking about the beat... to talk about the actual track is far beneath such men. (That only happens on, gasp, dance songs!)

"Hot Thing" is ok, but loverman never fit Kweli that well... oh, and bootleg Pharrell is back. But then that leads to "Oh My Stars" featuring Musiq Soulchild. Even with Blake's favorite on the hook, this is, unsurprisingly, the corniest shit ever. So I've included it for ya'll. I could see being into this if I was in just the right mood... but there are better such songs. Thankfully, the record ends on a good note with "Listen!!!" (regrettably missing a DJ Khaled cameo). I thought that Kwame had been dragged out of retirement to produced this, but a Wikipedia search showed that he's been racking up production credits recently--few of them good. Nonetheless, he brings a good track with a well-used vocal sample (those always get me).

All together, a good listen, a nice reminder of the Kweli of old, but nothing that will really stay with you. You might see me walking down the New York streets in a nostalgic backpacker-ish mood, with a fake beard and dark glasses... and when that time comes, I might just be bumpin' this.


T.R.E.Y. said...

that new T.I. is great. i feel like it's gonna end up his Blueprint 2, where it's one of my personal favorites but everyone else thinks it's bullshit. and i just think they're crazy.

as for Kweli, ever since i wasn't super-impressed (it def. wasn't bad though) by Reflection Eternal i haven't really looked into his other stuff. that said, with the lack of many big rap albums coming out this year i might just try this one out. maybe.

"Wipe Me Down" may be the best-worst thing to come outta the latest crop of random hit singles. even though that one guy's last verse on the remix sounds borderline retarded.

Prof. Nazty Fresh said...

alright, t.r.e.y.
I'm being completely serious-no clowning.
I really want to know what it is about T.I. vs. T.I.P., or for that matter Blueprint 2, that would qualify them as your personal favorites.
I'm seriously not trying to be a smart ass, I'm just wildly curious.

T.R.E.Y. said...

lol, aight man. i was talking personal favorites as far as each of the two rappers go.

the production on BP2's fire for the most part, on The Gift in particular. save those two Timbaland abortions ("What They Gonna Do" and "2 Many Hoes") and that fake-Sinatra one, i don't think there's a bad beat on the whole thing. to me it's like a flashier, more expensive version of the first BP. it's not as focused, but Jay does a generally good job on the mic regardless.

with T.I. vs T.I.P. i think it just comes down to me liking it on a track-by-track basis more than King. save Em's completely anticlimatic beat and appearance on "Touchdown" i'm not really tempted to skip anything.

T.R.E.Y. said...

probably shoulda been clearer on the "one of" my favorites part.

Prof. Nazty Fresh said...

alright, that's straight.

i don't know if you've heard much dizzee rascal, but you're reasoning for liking Blueprint 2 is pretty much word-for-word my same what i used to say about Showtime versus Boy In Da Corner.

And as for T.I., I've heard so many people throw around their ideas for what his best was that, unless he comes out with something absolutely crazy, his "best work" will probably be largely based on tastes. That said, I can understand if the sound of King wasn't your cup of tea.

T.R.E.Y. said...

nah man, i like King a lot, it's just that i like it mostly for the "What You Know"/"Top Back"-style bangers. i think the new one's just better-paced in general, plus the more downtempo/borderline cheesy stuff works just as well as the rest of it.

The Humanity Critic said...

I agree with you brother, it was a cool listen - but hardly a classic..