Talib Kweli has never struggled with any of his albums the past six years, but then again, there is a first time for everything. With his second solo release, "The Beautiful Struggle", Talib Kweli suffers his first disappointing album of his career. The main problem plaguing Kweli's latest effort is the production. While Kweli has always had a strong ear for beats, "The Beautiful Struggle" goes for a more radio friendly approach, as the album is cluttered with watered down keyboard beats that sound all too misplaced with Kweli's distinct style.
A prime example is Midi Mafia's atrocious arrangement of heavy guitars and keyboard sounds on the "planet rock" influenced "We Got The Beat" featuring Res. Kweli tries to switch things up by quicken his flow, but the production is so bad it makes you wonder what in the world Kweli was thinking. "A Game" is a similar effort, as Antwan Thompson's synthesize production truly sounds like it came out of a video game. The usually reliable DJ Hi-Tek also comes through with a disappointing effort on "Work It Out". While the duo's "Train Of Thought" album was four years ago, its hard to accept how much the two have changed over the years. "Work It Out" is proof that Hi-Tek and Kweli lack the precise chemistry they once possessed.
Besides horrendous production, "The Beautiful Struggle" also finds Kweli struggling to provide entertaining and original concepts. "We Know" featuring Faith Evans and "Never Been In Love" are bland love ballads that will quickly grow old due to average hooks and lusterless lyrics. Similarly, "I Try" featuring Mary J. Blige is a failed attempt to recreated "Get By", as Mary's simplistic and colorless hook makes for a ho-hum effort.
Even though "The Beautiful Struggle" is Kweli's worst album to date, it does feature some vintage cuts. Charlemagne ushers in Kweli perfectly on "Going Hard", the album's best cut. The track acts as Kweli's strongest message, addressing everything from slavery, terrorism and religion. "Those who trade in freedom for their protection deserve neither. Not a name, not tradition, religion you learn Jesus". The Neptune's produced "Broken Glass" is one of the few commercial attempts that do work, thanks to the Tunes funky drums and bells.
As the album title suggests, Kweli also paints a vivid picture of the urban community's struggles on songs like "Around My Way" and "Ghetto Show". John Legend and Kweli come together for a beautiful and moving effort on "Around My Way", which samples the classic Police song "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic". Over Charlemagne's lush piano keys, Kweli produces his usual brilliance on the mic. "The way we be saluting flags, wrapping them around our heads, when niggas ain't become American till 9/11. Feeling like you gotta sneak into heaven, when the reverend look like a pimp and the pimp look like the reverend". Building upon that is "Ghetto Show", which features Anthony Hamilton and Common, who steals the show with his two verses. "A man in front of the store, begging for money and mercy. I told him say a prayer under his breath, he curse me, niggas is thirsty". With two of Hip Hop's most prolific and socially conscious emcees coming together, you know what the outcome will be even before you hear the track.
You cannot blame Talib Kweli for trying to expand his sound and branch out beyond his usual demographic. However, if Kweli is truly going to make a splash in the mainstream he needs better production that does not sound forced and contrived. Kweli is at his best when he sticks to what he does best, not when he follows the sounds popularized by others around him. In the end, Kweli's latest release is a struggle, but it is far from beautiful.