The Neptunes

The Beautiful Struggle

Rawkus

Production: Hi Tek, Kanye West, The Neptunes, Just Blaze, Supa Dave West, Charlemagne, Midi Mafia

“If skills sold, truth be told, I’d probably be, lyrically Talib Kweli.” A nod from HoV could jumpstart any rapper’s career. But Kweli has been laying a solid foundation since ’97, releasing separate albums with Mos Def (Black Start and producer Hi Tek (Reflection Eternal) and then finally going solo in 2002 with Quality. Despite the enormous success of “Get By,” the album’s second single, Quality failed to move out many units. Hoping to build upon his already solid reputation, one of Brooklyn’s most progressive MCs returns to rap’s arena with The Beautiful Struggle.

The album jumps off on “Going Hard,” a theme song for today’s revolutionary soldiers, when Kweli preaches, “You say you never scared/There’s kids in other countries making jerseys, jeans and sneakers/They could never wear/Parents never there.” Talib’s thought provoking brand of Hip Hop has become his bread and butter, and joints like the Hi Tek crafted “Work It Out” and the Kanye West produced “I Try” exemplify why. The melodious piano arrangement on the latter inspires a jazzed up performance from Maiy J. Blige, while Kweli admits that he has ‘Trouble trying to write/Some shit that bang in the club through the night.” A very honest Talib exemplifies this inability on the rap/rock hybrid “We Got the Beat” and the Hi Tek produced “Back Up Offa Me,” which may not be well received by all his fans.

The Neptunes assisted, Melle Mel inspired “Broken Glass” doesn’t meet expectations. But luckily, the unsuspected “Around My Way,” featuring John Legend, makes up for the album’s more disappointing cuts, providing a grim glimpse into Brooklyn’s most impoverished neighborhoods. Kweli paints the perfect picture when he spits, “The cops ask you about your neighbors/Beat on you, threaten to incarcerate ya/Til you spill your guts like you a Garcia Vega.”

The desire to elevate Hip Hop coupled with the industry’s commercial demands has rattled even the most revolutionary rappers, and Talib Kweli is unfairly held to this same contradictory standard. Faced with a constant Catch 22, Talib delivers a solid album, but does little to elevate his stature.

CYPHA DIAZ

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