Talib Kweli & Madlib
t’s not the production. It’s not even the lyrics. It’s both. Or, rather, both together. A lack of cohesion is the most consistent problem preventing great collections of songs from becoming great albums in modern hip-hop.
It’s becoming increasingly evident that what every talented emcee needs to do is settle down with one equally talented (and suitable) producer to create an album where all parties are involved in every process of recording. The notion that utilizing multiple producers is what makes a “solo” rap album is absurd. No disrespect to Nas, but who else agrees that his much speculated full-length collaboration with DJ Premier would have a much better chance of ending the curse of Illmatic than any other campaign he’s come up with since his seminal debut?
That’s why I can safely say that this new Talib Kweli & Madlib, free-download album Liberation will prove to be far superior to Kweli’s upcoming solo project Ear Drum. It’s also no surprise that Liberation is his best effort since Reflection Eternal’s Train of Thought (his last single-producer effort). One might not imagine that the union of Kweli, a socially-minded, East Coast rapper, with Madlib, the eccentric, sample-crazy West Coast beatsmith (whose best musical forays have been complemented by equally unconventional MCs), would work but Liberation showcases both entities doing their best to surprise and delight.
The album starts out with the soulful strings of “The Show” over which Kweli provides a brief introduction before spitting stream-of-consciousness verses with some excellent wordplay. The second track, “Funny Money” has a classic sound; its flute sample and ‘90s-style drums are reminiscent of the Native Tongues-era while Kweli’s uniquely intricate flow keeps it closer to originality than revivalism.
Elsewhere, “Engine Running” features Consequence and Talib telling intersecting stories that end in racial profiling and subsequent police brutality. On “Over the Counter,” Kweli speaks on government, and his own art and education. “Happy Home” shows him retelling his own family history; it’s sentimental without crossing the line into sappiness: an infringement Kweli has constantly been culpable for.
The only truly questionable track on Liberation is the largely instrumental “Soul Music.” While the piece is not offensive by any means, its slow pace and female vocalist with a virtually non-existent Kweli make it feel out of place sandwiched between eight tracks of zealous lyricism. It also feels like a waste of precious time on an album that barely exceeds 30 minutes.
The greatest source of Liberation’s consistency is the chemistry between its two stars. Talib Kweli sounds more energized rhyming over Madlib’s production than he has in years. And, to his credit, Madlib has crafted his most traditionally rappable beats since his work with Lootpack. Ear Drum may be a disappointment when it finally drops, but at least we’ll have Liberation.
Reviewed by: A.J. Henriques
Reviewed on: 2007-01-16