Few emcees have been more celebrated in the past decade than Talib
Kweli. The Brooklyn rapper rose relatively quickly from his
underground fame at Rawkus to becoming fairly well recognized
among the mainstream dwellers. Despite the fact that his most "underground"
record (Reflection Eternal's Train of Thought), is
his best selling, Talib has spent his last three solo albums
trying to buck stereotypes and make the music that his core fans don't think he
should be making. The result has been inconsistent albums that don't come near
his potential as an artist.
It may have been a ridiculous elitist notion that he shouldn't work with The
Neptunes, but those fans were right as the results were atrocious.
Instead of just doing what he does best, Kweli was too busy
trying to shed his backpacker label and that only succeeded in doing one thing;
hurting the music. Eardrum, thankfully, has Kweli
comfortable in his own skin and making the kind of music everyone but him knew
he should have been making all along. Even better, he has improved tremendously
in the other areas of emceeing. While he has been unquestionably a premier
lyricist, his flow and delivery in the past has often been awkward at best and
horrific at worst.
Kweli opens with "Everything Man," an understated and
soulful Madlib production and sounds right at home. He
finishes off his usual visceral rhymes with a telling line: "I tried to fit
it in the same rhyme/but realized I couldn't be everything to everyone at the
time." With the proceeding songs, that is just what he does. Sticking to
his comfort zone without skimping on the panache, Talib
breezes through the album with remarkable consistency (and skill of
course). The build up to "NY Weather Report" is type ill, and Talib
does his part with lines like; "you ain't a rider and you hustlin
backwards/too many equate success with imitatin these crackas/so our kids
lookin up to drug dealers and rappers." He hooks up with Just
Blaze again for the LP's gem, the choir filled "Hostile Gospel."
It's his new "Get
By" without sounding like it is trying to be (unlike "I Try" from Beautiful
Never one needing guests to help rip a song, Kweli still
calls on some friends to put their touch on things. Jean Grae
comes through to talk smack on the energetic "Say Something." "Country Cousins"
with UGK is a real bright spot for Kweli as
he rips his verse with a little southern flow. The best collab comes when a
legendary lyricist joins the soon to be legend. KRS and Talib
just dismantle "The
Perfect Beat." Can't forget the obligatory Kanye
appearance on "In
The Mood," which is cool, but a bit of a letdown as it isn't one of
the album's strongest tracks.
While Talib may not really need help for a hot 16, he is
served well by some help on the hooks (as most rappers are). There is no
shortage of vocalists lending their chops to Ear Drum. The best comes
in the form of Norah Jones' sultry hook on the incredible Madlib-produced
"Soon The New
Day." Not to be forgotten is the sole Reflection Eternal
joint and mixtape favorite "More or Less," featuring the usual Talib
magic and Dion killing the hook. The always reliable will.i.am
(well, when it isn't his own song), comes through for "Hot Thing,"
which is just so smooth. Even the Musiq Soulchild-assisted "Oh My Stars"
that starts out hella soft ends up been real funky.
Unfortunately, the dream team with Talib hooking up with Pete
Rock for a couple tracks ends up fizzling out. "Holy Moly" is
alright, but nothing to write home about, and "Stay Around" is butchered by Kweli's
terrible flow. Ironically, the very same song where he bitches about fans
telling him what to do, including "you should rap on beat." Uhh, yeah.
Just as he says himself on the blazing Kwame production - "Listen."
Ideally this album is between a 4 and a 4.5, but since we don't have 4 and a
quarter and Common's superior album got a 4.5 this is what
we've got. There is still room for improvement, but this largely the album from
Kweli that everyone has been waiting for. He sticks to
production that fits his style rather than try and force himself outside of the
box, and pens an album full of lyrics that remove any doubt as to why he has
the reputation that he does. Other aspects of his emcee game may leave
something to be desired at times, but anyone with functioning ear drums should
know that this man is one of the greatest writers of our generation. Just