What better way to kick off 2007 than with something free? Especially when the free product you're getting is a collaboration between BK MC Talib Kweli and underground beat champion Madlib. Yes that's right; you have no excuse not to listen to Liberation (that is unless you really don't like both artists) it's free. It's not a mixtape, and it hasn't got drops all over it. Rather, it's a nine-song offering from two of the most acclaimed artists in their respective crafts, and while giving fans a free album, some would easily forgive both men if it wasn't exactly their best work we get both sides of the coin on this one.
I recently saw an interview with Kweli on the release of Liberation, where he stated that from an artistic business decision, giving fans a free album was a good look after all, he has his 3rd solo album Eardrum slated for a January release and he wanted fans to buy that album. In the meantime however, he was deciding to give us this gift for nothing. While I'm not entirely sure what Talib's precise thinking was behind the move (let's face it, free or not, the album would have been downloaded hundreds of times, and the same can be said for Eardrum unfortunately), what it certainly does do is increase the already mile-high respect for the emcee. He clearly could have made a bit of extra cash off this release, and the fans are going to realize this. So from that point, it's greatly appreciated.
Liberation is a confusing album. "The Show" opens Liberation with a dusty but soulful vocal sample complete with record crackles and pops, and if you're a Madlib fan, it's something you will be instantly at home with. Talib jumps straight out the gate with triumphant strings, "The Show" acting as confident but playful introduction for the talented duo. "Funny Money" makes use of a sporadic flute sample, and another nice vocal sample for the hook, but finds Talib using a rather boring flow as he speaks on shady promoters in the first verse, then switches up and attempts to incorporate loose references to cash over plugs for his new record label and crew of MC's it's definitely off topic, and Talib is annoyingly off-beat for much of it. Madlib hits us with some of his trademark rugged thump on "The Function" featuring Strong Arm Steady, and while it serves its purpose quite well, it is nothing spectacular, partly because of the terrible hook. "Over the Counter" is a high point however, with that pounding electronic synth and dirty atmosphere that Madlib and brother Oh No are widely recognized for truly coming to the fore Talib does a good job on the mic to back it up, dropping that Reflection Eternal knowledge:
This the Liberation rhyming is my occupation/
Occupation of a nation stop the population from creating self-esteem/
Plus a stream of consciousness/
When I got to intervene I help to free the populous
And the listener is subjected to this hit and miss approach throughout the album. Maybe because the album is quite short, it seems to never fully gel. But the length of the album intensifies the importance of its ability hold the listener's attention, and I'm afraid that it falls considerably short in this department. There are moments of really great stuff album closer "What Can I Do" being one, where rapper and producer live up to the potential, producing an anthemic track where Talib shows his true lyrical ability, and "Engine Runnin" a hypnotic military inspired, dark track on which Consequence crops up on. However these moments are too few and far between.
A free album is certainly a rarity these days in the era of 'grindin' and a concerted effort to make money out of everything possible, and perhaps that is the most positive thing that can come out of this release. While the music is not the best on offer, the meaning behind it is, and hopefully Liberation inspires a few more artists to throw their business mindset out the window and experiment in working with new artists, and more importantly, giving good music to the fans.