“If skills sold, then truth be told, I’d probably be, lyrically, Talib Kweli.” (Jay-Z, “Moment of Clarity”) And so it was stated on that day: Talib Kweli is your favorite rapper’s favorite conscious rapper.
Just getting his second solo (third if you count his work with Hi-Tek) full-length effort “The Beautiful Struggle” into stores has been a “struggle” for the Conscious One. After the album was initially bootlegged before it was even fully completed, Kweli was forced to go the mixtape route with the previously recorded material and rerecord an entire batch of new “Beautiful” tracks. And this time, the wait was well worth it, as Kweli delivers an album of surefire lyrical hits over a surprisingly upbeat and diverse range of instrumentals.
In the past, due to his associations with Blackstar (a joint venture between himself and Mos Def) and Reflection Eternal (pairing him with producer DJ Hi-Tek), Talib Kweli has pigeonholed himself as a conscious hip-hop act, always speaking out on an injustice or analyzing the American infrastructure.
Still, “Beautiful Struggle” views a new, and arguably improved, version of Talib Kweli. Some might still call him revolutionary or society-changing or promoting self-awareness. While all this still seems to be true, maybe, just maybe, Talib has finally realized that he can say this about politics, or that about the poor conditions in many cities, but still do it over a thumping Neptunes beat or a Hi-Tek production that, even if just for a moment, makes it all seem “beautiful” and not so bad. Therein lies “The Beautiful Struggle.”
The high-speed arrhythmic Neptunes pounder “Broken Glass” lends an ear to the “same old party track;” only this time, Talib is in charge and leading the story of the ups and downs of the life of a runaround girl. Similarly, the triumphant production of Charlemagne on “Going Hard” showcases a confident Kweli concocting a track that, among other things, questions the value of sneakers, jerseys, and jewels produced in countries where 11-year-old kids struggle to eat.
The brazen formula for the remainder of the album follows an almost unmistakable pattern with Kweli infusing his normal consciousness and on-point flow over a variety of either head-nodding or attention-getting production efforts that, on paper, should clash with his intelligent and fulfilling lyrics. Only here, that doesn’t happen.
An almost-apologetic Kweli springs up on Just Blaze’s “Never Been In Love,” where he flips the tale of getting to know love after being a player for so many years (and thankfully steers clear of the corny and tedious “love” song that this could have been). “Ghetto Show” pairs Talib with Common and the astronomically talented Anthony Hamilton as the three put out a ghetto hip-hopera of sorts (and Talib flips a mean Jigga interpolation rapping, “If lyrics sold then truth be told, I’d probably be, just as rich and famous as Jay-Z, Truthfully I wanna be like Common Sense, next best thing I do a record with Common Sense.”)
His best efforts, however, come in the form of “Black Girl Love” over an addictive baby-faced hook, as Talib and fellow rhymer Jean Grae trade uplifting barbs on the treatment of black women in society, and the title track, “The Beautiful Struggle.” Talib hits himself with his own harsh medicine on the most political of tracks, “Beautiful Struggle,” spitting, “Yo, I speak a lot at schools ‘cause they say I’m intelligent, No! It’s ‘cause I’m dope, if I was wack I’d be irrelevant.”
Some might dispute many of Kweli’s claims. How long can he keep rapping about the same “struggle?” What is he doing to make a change? But, that’s not the point here. Talib Kweli has once again created an opus, a continuum with which to keep building his conscious being and hip-hop career in the process. If it takes a Neptunes beat of a Hi-Tek production to get his message across, then why not? After all, he is your favorite rapper’s favorite conscious rapper. And “The Beautiful Struggle” does continue forward.