Back in 1998 not many could have envisioned what the future would hold for the then relatively unknown emcee named Talib Kweli. It was that year when Kweli hooked up with Mos Def to form Black Star, in which their debut album helped change the Hip-Hop industry and the scenery of the culture at that time. While not many understood the album's importance at that time, looking back the Black Star album definitely had a big impact. But while the album was a success, it was Mos Def who caught most of the attention. Mos was single handily thrusted into super stardom with his debut album "Black On Both Sides", numerous guest appearances and a now flourishing acting career. Talib Kweli however went relatively unnoticed to the Hip Hop mainstream until he and DJ Hi-Tek released one of the true classics of our times "Reflection Eternal". It was until then that the mainstream media, fans and critics started to take note that Talib Kweli wasn't just an average emcee, he was down right one of the best. As the story goes on, Kweli has gradually gained himself a strong rep as one of the best lyrical emcees in the game. And while Kweli is the underground/Hip Hop b-boy of the future for many, he is starting to make moves towards mainstream and super star statues, and this is evident through his debut solo album "Quality".
The sounds on "Quality" are vintage Kweli to the fullest, however the scenery has changed a little. Acting as his first true solo album, Kweli doesn't get any help from Hi-Tek for the production of the album and Mos only shows up for one track. It seems as if Kweli wanted to prove to everybody that he could put out a great album himself and he has. While "Quality" isn't the classic album like "Blackstar" or "Reflection Eternal", it is a marvelous album that showcases all sides of Talib.
The rock enthused sounds of "Rush" by Megahertz is a new direction of sorts for Kweli. However, he still pulls it off gracefully as the Megahertz production is surprisingly solid and not towards the gimmicky sounds he has produced in the past. "Put It It The Air" was featured on the Soundbombing 3 album and is produced by the legendary DJ Quik. While the West Coast sounds are a different vibe than ones past, the track is still able to stick to that vintage Kweli sound, even though the track feels somewhat out of place. The lead single "Waitin For The DJ" featuring Bilal is a more radio friendly sound that has gotten Kweli some modest airplay on radio and TV. Still somehow this track should be getting more attention than it already is as it's a great blend of artistic creativity and mainstream appeal.
One of the hottest producers in the industry, Roc-A-Fella's very own Kanye West shows up for some stupendous production on "Quality". Kanye continues to display his soulful sampled loops as seen on the summer anthem of "Good To You", which features a spectacular Al Green sample from "Simply Beautiful". "Guerrilla Monsoon Rap" is another Kanye West produced banger that features three of Hip-Hop's finest emcees Kweli, Black Thought & Pharoahe Monch. Kweli and Monch rip the track, while Thought delivers a solid verse, but nothing special. The finest of all the Kanye/Talib collabo's and maybe the best track on the album is the socially uplifting tales of "Get By". Talib is definitely at his best when he opens himself up and delves into his socially conscious side. Kweli address the fact that most of society tries to get by in life and doesn't live life to the fullest. It sometime that every one of us can relate to no matter our differences.
As mentioned, Kweli is at his best when he plays the role of conscious emcee, as most would tend to describe him. The finest moments on "Quality" comes when Kweli portrays this. Tracks such as "The Proud", "Where Do We Go" and "Stand To The Side" are simply amazing efforts in song writing, realism and lyricism. The most controversial comes from "The Proud" where Kweli address numerous social problems such as the September 11th tragedy, police brutality and the Oklahoma City bombing. With quite possibly one of the best verses of the year Kweli, like others this year, questions the real face of America when it comes to violence over the years. "Where Do We Go" & "Stand To The Side" are similar types of tracks, both encompassing the same feel as Kweli admits they were originally supposed to be one song. "Where Do We Go" is a heartfelt dedication to the legendary musician "Weldon Irvine" who played a big influence in Kweli's life. Both tracks featuring some amazing production by J Dilla that encompass a surreal soulful feel.
While "Quality" is one of the more balance albums of the year, it does feature some minimal flaws. The Megahertz sounds of "Gun Music" featuring the Cocoa Brovaz is a little out of place in Kweli's catalogue of songs and is basically bland and boring. Other than that the only other questionable track is the more softer/R&B sounds of "Talk To You" featuring Bilal. While not a bad track, it may not appeal to the average Hip-Hop fan. However, to some these flaws maybe even to minimal to address as "Quality" is a great album front to back. While it doesn't encompass the same aura and sounds as the classic "Black Star" and "Reflection Eternal" albums, it would be foolish to expect Kweli to duplicate those sounds again as classic albums like those one come once in a lifetime or maybe two if you are Kweli.
Nevertheless, "Quality" is an album every true Hip-Hop fan should have in their collection. It's a great mix of political and social awareness; b-boy anthems and just plain Hip hop that's good for the soul. With "Quality" Talib Kweli just might start to get the recognition he deserves as one of the best emcees in the industry today.