Talib Kweli - Prisoner Of Conscious

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While Kweli is still both introspective and current at times, "Prisoner Of Conscious" is ultimately too formulaic to be considered as a superior album.

Talib Kweli has gained and maintained steady popularity in part due to his being labeled a “conscious rapper” or for making thought-provoking Hip Hop. While he’s no stranger to the more rugged, underground scene, he’s also displayed both versatility and accessibility through collaborations with the likes of DJ Quik, Kanye West and Gucci Mane. It’s always dangerous to guess why any emcee chooses a particular course of action, but some of these attempts at least appear to be made with the intention of shaking the dreaded conscious label that has followed Kweli since his Rawkus days. The son of an English professor, he loves to analyze and teach, but there’s something particularly fitting about Prisoner Of Conscious, his latest studio album, being released now in 2013: during these times of heightened social volatility, Prisoner Of Conscious is Talib Kweli’s plea for a more positive future.

Clearly, he’s been doing some soul-searching since Gutter Rainbows in 2011, using what he has found to craft something that is both current and accessible, as well as—for lack of a better word—conscious. He has a definite grasp of today’s state of affairs, declaring on the lead single, “Push Thru,” “Let myself in, fighting for freedom like the people in Tunisia / Spread through Sudan and Egypt, this the music for the movement…” Similarly, he communicates wisdom through mediums such as race (“It Only Get’s Better”) and freedom of mind (“Before He Walked”). On the latter track—alongside Nelly, of all people—Kweli literally takes the listener to school with his verse: “So you’re expecting the conscious and introspect of use / Each of lyrical vestibule, let me tell you what’s best for you / My music gives you a message true or respect is due / But music is emotion, that’s lost from the intellectuals.” His supreme writing abilities are apparent, and a seamless collaboration with Nelly, a true mainstream artist, only reinforces the notion that Talib Kweli is not only just a conscious rapper.

For all of its powerful lyricism, Prisoner Of Conscious is not a particularly dynamic listen. As its title implies, “Hamster Wheel” uses a hamster wheel as a metaphor to describe how the female protagonist is running in place. A novel concept is hampered by Kweli’s choice to use a high-pitched delivery, which clashes with the nasal-quality of his voice. A somewhat sing-song cadence (used expertly on previous offerings like “Put It In The Air”) just doesn’t work here. Similarly, “Delicate Flowers,” which boasts full, yet mellow production from S1, quickly loses steam with the redundant, looping chorus, “Women have feelings too.” R&B man of the moment, Miguel assists on “Come Here.” Though its humorous play on the word “come” makes the song mildly entertaining, it feels out of place. Kweli is again fighting the conscious perception, but fails from this angle.

Coined by Peter Benenson in 1961, a “Prisoner Of Conscience” is defined as “a person who has been imprisoned for holding political or religious views that are not tolerated by their own government.” Kweli is not calling himself a prisoner of conscience, but he is calling on his listeners to think outside the box, while being aware of top-down mental imprisonment. At the same time, he is also tackling the notion that he is a “prisoner” of the conscious rapper label by balancing the insular brand of Hip Hop championed by many of his early fans, with newer, more radio-friendly content. In a time where ill minds have begun using violence towards the innocent with greater frequency, Prisoner Of Conscious provides uplifting messages, as well as displays of artistic versatility. But these moments don’t happen consistently or frequently enough to make it a superior album.

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84 Comments

  • adrian

    love 'hamster wheel' for some reason

  • staner

    I love this album. Dont understand how the writer came to this opinion. This album also is better than gutter rainbows, though.

  • Anonymous

    so kanye and jay-z get a 4/5 rate and kweli a 3/5 ??? WHAT THE FUCK !!

  • Jeremiah

    Pac Biggie Nas Lupe Kweli The 5 GOAT

  • Francisco

    Great album, great lyrics and production, although I feel he could have been more aggressive on certain tracks.

  • jonestec

    Classic album!!! that reviewer is dead wrong one this one..fire!!!

  • Anonymous

    Decent tracks, but overall not high on replay value.

  • mike

    slightly above decent

  • Christopher Tyler

    Talib KWELI's new album is a classic!

  • Eric

    Love the cd, especially the "Come Here" song! I will have to disagree with the writer, the song didn't seem out of place. Lot of gems on this own. Keep it up Talib!

  • Monkbit

    underrated...a couple experimental tracks but ONLY KWELI can make lyrical tracks like Human Mic, Rocket ships, hold it now,Push thru, and mix it up with tunes like Favela love, before he walked, delicate flowe, hamster wheel... He spits good on all tracks although some are more experimental like upper echelon (although its paying homage to master ace - first verse & sample) ready set go isnt the usual kweli although its an easy listen when the track gets goin n has a catchy rnb type chorus by melanie fiona... come here and it only gets better were more Kweli-esque tunes and second nature to kweli (remind me of quality album). High life gets the heads up for showcasing the 'high life' genre of music from west africa...a testament to his huge African fanbase..'if you can walk you can dance'.... BUY IT Kweli is not a prisoner of conscious- he is 'AWAKE'

  • Brandon Bonner

    Y'all are crazy this album is dope!!!! This is what hip hop has been missing true lyricism!

  • Yasiin Bey & Talib Kweli [Black Star] - Black Star Aretha

    1. Mercy, Mercy (Produced by Madlib) 2. Home Grown Terrorist (Produced by Madlib) 3. One Step Ahead feat. Black Thought (Produced by ?uestlove, co. Ray Angry, co. Richard Nichols) 4. Sinnermen (Produced by Hi-Tek) 5. Selfish feat. Res (Produced by Hi-Tek) 6. Faith feat. Blu & James Blake (Produced by Madlib) 7. Feel the Bass (Produced by Madlib) 8. Street Poems (Produced by ?uestlove, co. Ray Angry, co. Richard Nichols) 9. Spiritual Blindness (9:39) (Produced by Hi-Tek) 10. Gettin' Funky feat. Bilal (Produced by Hi-Tek) 11. Daydreaming (Produced by Hi-Tek) 12. When You Get There feat. Erykah Badu (Produced by Yasiin Bey) 13. Black to the Point feat. Jay Electronica (Produced by Oh No) 14. Things Ain't What They Used to Be feat. Norah Jones (Produced by Q-Tip) 15. Black Star Aretha feat. Common & Aretha Franklin (Produced by Kanye West)

  • odeisel

    Here's the Planet Ill view of the album http://planetill.com/2013/05/album-review-talib-kweli-prisoner-of-conscious/

  • ZD

    ppl who r still wearing backpacks stuck on the old reflection eternal need to move on, in all reality kweli could make more reflection eternal and blackstar sounding albums, which would not be anything true to his progression as an artist. whoever said these r radio friendly tracks doesnt really know what they r talking about...kweli still does not get the airplay and will not- he does not care about making radio friendly tracks as he has said in interviews. artists always need to express and yes he is doing that in different ways but the results are just as real, there is no selling out. for me quality and eardrum were the best solo kweli albums and liberation was something special too. I have not listened 2 the new album more than once but I was not disappointed, its not throw away material. The kids comparing kweli to drake 'YOU MUST LEARN'. check kweli cover of 5am in toronto '5am in Brooklyn' maybe that will help u understand what hes about.

    • ZD

      Kweli is trying 2 make more than Hip Hop or Underground Hip Hop. He is making MUSIC! "Music a part of me, I'm a bully, Beating up the track with brutal honesty. The truth inside of me, rappers hit the booth and they lie to me, I'm using the inspiration guru provided me. The redefining of space, you can call me the new geometry. A picture of you pop up when I google monotony. Now all the people who rule and spend responsibly Think your album is trash and it's not the voodoo economy. So you're expecting the conscious and introspective use-i Each of lyrical vestibule, let me tell you what's best for you. My music gives you a message true all respect is due, But music is emotion, that's lost on the intellectuals. A tree fall in the forest is never heard Amongst the sparrows and the robins and even the ghetto birds. You download it for free but what I create is sacred It cost you nothing but I pay to make it, trust me."

    • ...?

      TBH I only read the first 2 lines and all I'm gonna say is from Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, Train of Thought, Quality to Gutter Rainbows & Prisoner of Conscious isn't "progression" It's not like his change in sound has gave him either extra critical praise or commercial success, all I know is if he'd went for the late 90s / early 00s Soulquarians sound more people would buy his shit and it'd be better for his catalogue when he hung up the mic.

  • WC

    This one of my favorite emcess... so it's hard to rate it low. While there are a couple exemplary tracks, it just, as fan kind of falls short. Hold It Now, should've been longer as ill as it is. Still got love for Kweli, but there's a lot from this album that won't be making it on my IPod. Wish he would've came harder. Gotta wait for the next one.

  • mwafrika aussie

    Excellent album. Favela love is my fav. This is truly a 4.5 rating for sure. True hiphop is back, how u like them applez little wayne

  • Anonymous

    Disappointing isn't strong enough word to describe my feelings towards this album. I was so excited after a few features of kweli on others work (especially the RA track), i was like this is going to be awesome need some new kweli on the ipod....i don't think i will listen to the album again.....makes me sad @:-(

  • Drake the best rapper alive

    this nigga sells 5k lmao what a joke. Lol i find it funny how a lot of people boy cot these rappers online but never buy their shit just proves what a joke these so called real hiphop nerd fans really are. This nigga also has a terrible flow and a horrible voice not to mention his beats suck.

    • Derrick

      Shit. Rap is full of wack niggas that go Platinum. Drake is a rapper for white suburban sorority girls from Calabasas and appropriators of black culture.

    • Anonymous

      This coming from a fan of Drake, LOL!!!!! Stay of the forum bud your taste is terrible!

    • Anonymous

      After reading your comment, it sounds like you don't even know who Talib Kweli is you ignorant poser!

    • Kz

      "Horrible voice and flow? But Drake is the best rapper alive?" Well that says enough about your taste in music doesn't it? I am not saying this is a exceptional album but it is much better than every single Drake album. Besides Talib is a legend: Quality, Black star, reflection eternal,... this guy made more classics than Drake can count. Besides the fact that you base quality on album sales alone, makes your opinion on music irrelevant!

  • ras

    i bought this album on itunes. these days most people in north america have the ability to express themselves creatively due to our decent standard of living. i hope the album reviewer is taking the time to actually go into that wonderful space where one can create subsequently one can listen more purely. i think the album reviewer is over analyzing. its an above average album. meanwhile georgia anne muldrow and dudley perkins are currently releasing a more experimental and daring album as far as beats goes and it goes unheard. whats wrong with kweli catering to the average listener a lil bit. its not like he foregoes his general message.

  • Ferigno

    Too formulaic? You out your rabbitass minds. Kweli's joint is 4 1/2, not quite a classic, but superior to anything those queerbaits over at YMCMB put out. Get with the real shit.

  • trell

    He's my favorite rapper hands down! He's probably the master of conscious hip-hop & rap I'd tell him to stick with it n forget the mainstream bulls**t cuz people like to listen to keef chief n future n all them whack dudes. If you heard that any of his stuff were he's colabed with gucci mane (like poltergiest) its clear that one he'll never shake that conscious label and that 2 10 of guccis bedt verses will never amount to one oh talibs. Lol. I don't listen to him for shit you'd hear on the radio just them lyrics I've grown accustomed to since 1999. And if you ask me his name has gotta be mentioned with the best to ever do it despite that fact that he isn't commercial or has mainstream fans. His lyrical content & capacity is just unmatched my most

  • Anonymous

    this was a great review. and this alum may have its flaws but its a lot better then gutter rainbows imo.

  • Starmani

    You know this album is very good. I've heard it a couople of times. But this review from HHDX was extremley accurate. I rarely agree with them but they got it right this time. This album is poorly exceuted, but Talib still proves he has lyrical dexterity. I think this beats Gutter Rainbows, but not by much.

  • Mr.Musick

    I thought this album was dope. I've always been a fan of lyrics not some song you can put on the radio. This album is def not one of his best but still far more superior than 90% of the albums to come out this year.

  • Confused Reader

    I'm about to read this review in a sec, but I needed a good laugh and the fact the author`s name is Homer did it for me. lmao. *hits page up*

  • cbui11

    Obviously not his best work after the first few listens, but those saying it's wack need to take a college course in lyrical rap.

  • Anonymous

    this 3 is a 4.5 compared to the rest of the crap out

    • Mr.Musick

      I'm glad that someone else out there looks at it this way too. Not one of Kweli's best albums but it superior than any of the sh** that Lil Wayne or Chief Keef have put out.

  • tdotfromdabronx

    Mediocre...

  • anonymous

    I think this is one the of best albums thats come out this year, the production is better than his last album too. 4/5

  • ...?

    Black Star Content: 5/5 Guest Spots: 4/5 Lyrics: 5/5 MC(s): 5/5 Production: 4.5/5 Train of Thought Content: 5/5 Guest Spots:4.5/5 Lyrics: 5/5 MC: 5/5 Production: 4.5/5 Quality Content: 4.5/5 Guest Spots: 4.5/5 Lyrics: 5/5 MC: 5/5 Production: 4.5/5 The Beautiful Struggle Content: 4/5 Guest Spots: 4/5 Lyrics: 4.5/5 MC: 4.5/5 Production: 3.5/5 Liberation Content: 4/5 Guest Spots: 3/5 Lyrics: 4/5 MC: 4/5 Production: 4/5 Eardrum Content: 4/5 Guest Spots: 4/5 Lyrics: 4.5/5 MC: 4.5/5 Production: 3.5/5 Revolutions per Minute Content: 4.5/5 Guest Spots: 4.5/5 Lyrics: 4.5/5 MC: 4/5 Production: 4/5 Gutter Rainbows Content: 4/5 Guest Spots: 3.5/5 Lyrics: 4.5/5 MC: 4/5 Production: 3.5/5 Prisoner of Conscious Content: 4/5 Guest Spots: 3/5 Lyrics: 4.5/5 MC: 4.5/5 Production: 3/5

  • e

    maybe a 3/5 if we're going by his standards. more like a 4 or 4.5 if we're going by everyone else's.

  • Anonymous

    what happened to Talib? he used to be good... smh

  • rawkuts

    Great Album 4.5/5

  • kps

    This reviewer is fucking crazy man, not saying that this is his best work but 3 man GTFOH!!! P.O.C is def his best work since Revolutions Per Minute or Eardrum. His flow and voice are insane on Hamster Wheel and Come Here is great too! This album is so fucking smooth it's rare to hear something like this these days!

  • jaseptlevi

    if you're feeling this album, you definitely enjoy my music...check out my two mixtapes jaseptlevi.com

  • Rival X

    This album is easily 4.5. All the records has theme to fit the title of the album. Album is straight fire.

  • Anonymous

    Honestly, I'm so sick and tired that most artists afraid to drop some raw material. Not just Talib, but he's a good example. Who's listening Kweli for radio friendly singles? [chricket chirping] Nobody? As expected. And yepp, we get it: you're aiming for some mainstream shine / getting new fans / showing versatility / trying to sound different, but again: nobody is listening Kweli for these materials. Then why he doesn't have the confidence to drop a heavy hitting project? Especially that he is independent? Practically his whole fan base have begging for years to make something elemental where he can bring his A-game artistically. But no, let's do a track with Weezy and Mack Maine about popping bottles instead! Same goes about that Black Star project, neither of them give a damn about it. Normally I don't mind dope tracks with more commercial sound ("Get By", anybody?), but in the past years Kweli dropped too much "meh" material. Lyrically he's always on point, but the big picture is always mediocre in every LP because he's lack of confidence to do art without commercial pressure. Shame that Kweli has everything what it takes to put a hip-hop classic to the table, but it seems that he's not even trying any more. Prisoner of Conscious is better than Gutter Rainbows, but still nothing more than decent compared to Talib's potential.

    • Ken

      @1st Anon: Thank you for having the ability to step back and properly assess Talibs situation. As fans Its our job to expect the best from the artists we support and by being critical of all their work, we're only helping them. If we've heard better music from an artist, Its important that we hold them to that same standard. That being said Talib never had the knack for commercial sounding hip hop, so Its surprising that he would take that route in 2013, as an independent artist. @2nd Anon: Stop dickriding. Were all Talib fans here. Being greatest in the game does not stop someone from dropping weedplates. The album at discussion here, is simply not up to the standard hes set from album prior to Gutter Rainbows.

    • ...!

      @ OP: I completely agree with everything you just said, compare it the whole Slaughterhouse debacle last year, KNOW YOUR FUCKING FAN BASE! I mean of course you don't have to, but it's them not having that's got them into this position, Talib's album would easily surpass a Top 20 album if you cater to your best sound (anyway, why wouldn't you want to cater to your best sound!?). Also Slaughterhouse would've pushed at least 150k in their first week if they filled the album with the likes of DJ Premier, The Alchemist, Pete Rock, Black Milk, Nottz, Hi-Tek & Buckwild.

    • Anonymous

      how are you gonna say that talib kweli can be better? hes already one of the greatest in the game..thats like telling albert pujols that he needs to step up because hes not hitting .400 with 70 HR's

  • adillyo

    4 for me but I'm giving it 5 to balance the retards

  • Chicago Rilla

    WOW THIS IS A LEAST A 4 OUTTA 5, HHDX FUCKING UP

  • bigfoot89

    Lyrically superior to all that bullshit out right now, 5 stars

  • 777

    I personally liked this.

  • jus10

    Let's take a minute and address Busta Rhymes. How can Busta have the HOTTEST guest feature on any album (like P.O.C.), but when Busta drops a project of his own, he is such garbage? Maybe that's a sellout. idk. Anyways, P.O.C. has its moments. Some kind of energy or balance is missing, but the majority of tracks are worthy. 3/5

  • akir

    Worst shit Talib's ever done. Ugh. Reflection Eternal or nothing.

  • ...?

    Content: 4/5 Guest Spots: 3/5 Lyrics: 4.5/5 MC: 4.5/5 Production: 3/5

  • madlib

    I told this fool he needs me on the boards. This album is good to fall asleep to. Boring!!

  • ...?

    Before this Talib Kweli had never actually dropped a "wack" album, of course some not as strong as others but none were actually "bad". But this one!? That track with Harry Fraud was terrible!!!

  • Anonymous

    I give it a 4. It has really good songs, and then some that are just kind of "eh". But its a solid album and it still dominates over most of the bullshit you see out today like Lil Wayne and Tyga. Not Talib's best, but still a solid album that's worth buying.

  • Anonymous

    prisoner of WACKNESS... and how can one cornball fuck rap so long without ever getting better? fuck him and his white nerd fans, go back to the bookstore TK and ** READ ** this time you lame fuck.

  • polo hova

    Probably the worst album I heard this year. I'm not the biggest Kweli fan but I do like some of his work. Like Ear Drum was a dope ass album to me. This is a fail.

  • e_sheikh

    Dope alblum lyrically insane

  • Anonymous

    Talib hasb the voice of 13 year old boy, just horrible

    • Ernesto Mampuiya

      One more time Talib Kweli , breaing us good album and great featuring, like Seu Jorge ( From Brasil), Busta Rhymes, Melanie Fiona, Currensy, Kendrick lamar, so i think this album is fire...