After a two-year hiatus, Talib Kweli is back with his first solo project.
The cover of “Quality” is plain. Just a picture of Kweli looking off with a glazed expression. He’s wearing a 76ers hat and matching jacket, a white T-shirt and red, leather wristband. No glitter or bling. And his music is just as stripped and honest. “Quality” features a few return guests from “Reflection Eternal” (with Hi-Tek) including Mos Def, Res, Dave Chapel and snippets from Nina Simone.
Kweli also collaborates with artists Black Thought, Pharoahe Monch, DJ Quik, Kendra, Cocoa Brovaz and Bilal.
Since his BlackStar debut in 1999 (with Mos Def), Kweli’s lyrics have always had an intellectual, conscious vibe. “Quality” continues this lyrical tradition but musically has a more edgy sound.
This is partly due to the album’s diverse producers Soulquarians, Eric Krasno (Soulive), Megahertz, Kayne West, DJ Scratch, Dahoud Darien, Ayatollah and J. Dilla.
The first song, “Rush,” sounds like a rock fight song complete with crass electric guitars and the chant: “feel the rush, feel the rush.”
Kweli confesses: “I’m the illest emcee and a man of my word/when I came out n-s didn’t understand it at first/ I’m known to roll up my sleeves and put my hand in the dirt/We at war and I got a battle plan that can work”
In “Gun Music,” the Brooklyn-raised emcee discusses gun use.
For those who wonder why Kweli made a song about guns he wrote, “I can talk about anything I want to, especially something as prevalent in my community as gunplay . . . Is hip hop so divided that I’m selling out my audience by allowing the word gun to come out my mouth.”
“Get By” is upbeat and features the sounds of trumpets , castanets, a piano, a bass, clips from Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” and four powerful clapping background vocalists.
The song speaks to those who are just floating through life rather than really living.
“Love is unconditional/Even when the condition is critical/And the living is miserable/ Your position is pivotal/ I ain’t bull- you. . . Some people cry/ Some people try/ Just to get by for a piece of the pie.”
Perhaps the most sentimental track was reserved for Kweli’s son and daughter whose births he describes as pure joy.
“June 10, 1999/ I’ve been on the grind/ Since the birth of my son its been about way more than rhymes. . . Got the news in the car and stayed sort of calm but cried tears of joy when they put my daughter in my arms.”
With elements of rock, rap, blues and jazz, this
album is creatively adventurous and ultimately impressive.