Beautiful Struggle - Talib Kweli
Rating: 3.5/5. Not as good as Quality, but listen for yourself.
Talib Kweli’s introspective rhymes have given him a reputation as a conscious rapper. He’s known in the underground for phenomenal music on account of his intelligent lyrics, hard beats, and smooth flow. His latest album, Beautiful Struggle, is a more mainstream production, including appearances by R&B singers like Faith Evans and Mary J. Blige and beats by the Neptunes, Hi-Tek, and Kanye West. The result is a bit uneven, and it fails to match the energy and that raw feel of Quality, his first solo album, but it’s still worth checking out. It’s hard to describe the experience of listening to Beautiful Struggle, which is different from any of his earlier albums, like Quality and Train of Thought. I’m not sure if I could have predicted what would emerge from his collaborations or if I can put into words what it's like when the combinations work (like on his track with Mary J. Blige) or why it is that they sometimes don't (like in We Know with Faith Evans). If you want to be able to understand it, you may just have to get acquainted with them yourself.
Though it’s not the same as listening to the music, Kweli’s lyrics provide a glimpse of the awareness of struggle, dreams, and poverty that pervades his album. Here is an excerpt of Black Girl Pain, about his daughter Diani:
My pretty black princess smell sweet like that incenseThose who are familiar with Kweli’s work may remember Diani as the daughter whose birth that he sang about in Joy on his last album:
That you buy at the bookstore supporting black business
Teach her what black is; the fact is her parents are thorough
She four reading Cornrows by Camille Yarborough
I keep her hair braided, bought her a black Barbie
I keep her mind free; she ain't no black zombie
This is for Aisha, this is for Kashera
This is for Khadijah scared to look up in the mirror
I see the picture clearer thru the stain on the frame
She got a black girl name, she livin black girl pain
We at the African street festival, and she walking aroundThat song has the catchy chorus with Mos Def:
talking about the midwife said, that bring the baby down
I'm about to be a father,
the sights and sounds seem brighter around me
and for starters, I know I'ma work harder, word
That’s the music. Some people may be more interested in the cosmic questions about Kweli. Is he for real? Is he going to change the world of music? I don’t see how anyone who has ever heard Kweli could doubt that he’s for real. And, while I doubt that he is going to send all of hip hop in a socially conscious direction, I think that the influence of Kweli on artists from Jay-Z to unknown garage bands has proven that he is more than an epiphenomenon in the rap world. Instead of worrying about his place in the world, though, I recommend listening to his music. That’s what it’s for.
See my brother, I know how you feel, Kweli, I know how you feel
(That's the sound of joy)