Artist: Talib Kweli
Album: Right About Now: The Official Sucka Free Mix CD
Label: Blacksmith / Koch
Reviewer: Nick D
Talib Kweli is a frustrating enigma. Often described as a machine gun, Kweli possesses an incredible flow which he uses to pack each line with multiple rhymes and metaphors, imploring the listener to reach for the rewind button in an effort to fully absorb each verse. Kweli was a vital part of both Black Star and Reflection Eternal, two super-groups that provided a welcome alternative to the shiny suit, video rap that was beginning to dominate the scene in the middle to late nineties. Kweli also proved that he could be successful alone as he showed in his acclaimed classic, “Quality”. While none of this is exactly new news, it does indicate that when he is at his best, Talib Kweli is one of the most gifted MC s to grace the microphone in the past five to seven years.
This is also what is so frustrating about Kweli, as he is not always at his peak. The same MC who ensured that the Rawkus record label lived up to its €œIndependent as Fuck € slogan seems to, especially as of late, be more and more concerned with commercial success. This is illustrated on his 2004 album, “The Beautiful Struggle”, in which he collaborates with the likes of The Neptunes and Just Blaze. Consequently, while representing lyricism at its finest, Kweli simultaneously conjures unholy images of the extremely underwhelming “Soundbombing 3”.
Talib Kweli €™s latest release, “Right About Now: The Official Sucka Free Mix CD”, is a perfect example of this paradox in a single, neatly wrapped package. On one hand, several of the tracks on the album are on par with the best Kweli has to offer. On the other hand, however, the remainder of the album mirrors his less creative, more lucrative side.
After ‘Right About Now’, the record €™s ample opening track on which he rhymes about his career over a jazz-type beat that perfectly accentuates his voice and flow, Kweli teams up with first-class lyricists Planet Asia and Phil Da Agony on the record €™s best track, ‘Drugs, Basketball, & Rap.’ The dark, hardhitting beat compliments the styles of each MC allowing for sharp lyricism and wordplay that includes clever references to both Dave Chappelle €™s voyage to Africa and children €™s literary character Lemony Snicket.
The album is also ripe with outstanding guest appearances. The tracks that feature the likes of Papoose, Mos Def, Jean Grae, and M.F. Doom are each as successful as the Planet Asia/Phil Da Agony collaboration and are definitely worthy of a look particularly for fans of each artist. In addition, ‘Ms. Hill’, an affectionate tribute to Lauryn Hill, shows that Kweli can still hold it down on his own.
Although roughly half of Right About Now reflects the talent that made Talib Kweli the underground legend that he is/was, the other half is disappointingly bland. Many of these filler tracks are a combination of poor, sluggish beats and spiritless, unimaginative lyrics. On some tracks, such as ‘Roll Off Me’, Kweli simplifies his lyrics to almost atypical directness.
Even when Kweli manages to reach the pinnacle of his abilities, he is often grounded by the album €™s shoddy production. This is evident on the record €™s closing track, ‘Two & Two’, on which Kweli €™s superior verse is overshadowed by a cheap, distracting beat which would be more welcome on a top ten television countdown than on a Talib Kweli album.
There is little doubt that, as he has displayed in the past and continues to demonstrate on occasion, Talib Kweli has the potential for brilliance. When on point, Kweli is an interesting, energetic, complex, and politically savvy MC. And although “Right About Now” is inconsistent, there may be just enough of Kweli €™s ability evident to warrant a look. If not, keep in mind that it does feature new material from Jean Grae and M.F. Doom.