CONSCIOUS: capable of or marked by thought, will, design or perception: relating to, being, or being part of consciousness <the conscious mind>
This is Talib Kweli’s dilemma. Such a credible artist and respected in the eyes of many, but they only see him as just a conscious rapper. After Black Star, Reflection Eternal, Quality, The Beautiful Struggle, Eardrum, Revolutions Per Minute and Gutter Rainbows, Kweli now wants to show a more diverse side, but still deliver that consistency that he has shown throughout, and in this album, he has succeeded…. and all without his #1 producer Hi-Tek. Is it a risky move I hear you ask? Well put it this way. Ghostface Killah has produced many albums without RZA production and look how well that turned out…
Violins and pianos kick off the album in epic fashion. Talib is preparing his ‘Human Mic’ check… great to hear that he is on top form ready to go, even paying homage to Slum Village at the end …“to take a child you gotta raise it up…raise it up…”
By the second track Kweli demands that this album be ‘Turnt Up’…. with a T!!! No shame in hearing an opera singer blasted out of your car stereo while cruising. Talib and producer Trend is those guys that can take a classic (Eric B & Rakim – Paid In Full) and bring it in to 2013 in glorious Technicolor.
‘Come Here’ featuring Miguel is officially the first single from the album, it’s not exactly true and I will explain why later. This has that blend of that mature grown sound combined with that relevant, current sound that can be played in all the clubs or in your home when you’re having a romantic moment with your half, and has that potential to be a timeless classic like Snoop Dogg & Pharrell‘s Beautiful.
Talib shifts gears swiftly and lives the ‘High Life’ with Rubix & Rajah. Producer Oh No gives the track a hint of a Tribal African twist and produces a feel good sound while letting the beat ride out. Here Talib has managed to change the flow of the album without making it sound out-of-place. Rubix and Kweli go tag team in a frantic pace in one of many stand out tracks.
Talib continues to switch lanes in ‘Ready, Set, Go’ featuring Melanie Fiona. His lyrical prowess hasn’t slowed since the album started: “The devil try to deny us the highest of elevation/They keep us at sea level so I’m staying on my A game/They local like C when I express like the A train/My A-alikes take what I write, use it to maintain/We be alike see alike cause we got the same brain…” Then he goes on to throw darts at the mainstream as he shows them how it’s done… “Rappers nowadays are confusing you/I know you tired of the usual like Trey Songs and Drake/That’s why I’m keeping the faith/Keeping the pace although it’s all about the winning it’s never about the race…” If Drake has any Common Sense left he won’t go against Talib… see what I did there???
If Jay-Z can have a Moment Of Clarity and wanted to be lyrically Talib Kweli, then in ‘Hold It Down’, Talib returns the favor. If he was ingredients for a soup, he would be a young Raekwon, a bit of KRS-ONE, some Q-Tip, some Rakim and a bit of Ice Cube…. Talib continues to slay the rappers who think they have it held down. Then he continues to ‘Push Thru’ with Kendrick Lamar & Curren$y, in the albums many collabs with new hungry MCs. This track was actually released as a single last year, and had heads ready for the album, and after a long wait, it is well worth it.
The album has many highlights, but ‘Hamster Wheel’ might be the crowning jewel. Talib tells a story of a woman who broke up with a dude and barely escaped with her life, then finds herself involved with a guy who she thought she could confide in, but her paranoia and insecurities lead to her being put out in the streets. The heartfelt flow continues into ‘Delicate Flowers’, where Kweli speaks on women’s feelings and how men need to be careful where they walk on the minefield.
Going from smooth, heartfelt sounds to the Wu-Tang sound, Talib & Busta Rhymes spazz out on the RZA produced ‘Rocket Ships’, but’s it the ever animated Busta who steals the show by cussing the woman for cooking pork in his house while the woman has no awareness to why pork is unacceptable in the 5%.
Talib has received flak by putting a returning Nelly on the track ‘Before He Walked’. Clearly these fans who were quick to call Kweli a ‘sell-out’ didn’t not grasp and understand the concept of the Prisoner Of Conscious. The result: a great track that is misunderstood. It is the next track ‘Upper Echelon’ that will raise heads eyebrows at first listen, but this is the sort of beat that lyrics are over looked by the casual fan. Lyrically it is amazing: “See I be listening to real sh!t/real spit/my die hards feel it/type of sh!t the fake n!**@$ find hard to deal with/I’m on a higher plane I’m destroying it while I’m building/my threat can’t be contained/so my name on Obama kill list…” How many mainstream artists you know can come with complex word play like ‘incorrigible’ and ‘valedictorian’ on a beat like this??? As I thought, not many.
‘Favela Love’ is a sure-fire single/video waiting to happen. Talib takes it to Brazil with Seu Jorge, whose native vocals are so hypnotic it puts you in another zone. This would have been nice to end the album. But Kweli goes one better.. and ‘It Only Gets Better’ with Floetry’s Marsha Ambrosius. The song tells the nieve that just because there is a black man in the White House does not mean that racism no longer exists.
The iTunes version has Ryan Leslie returning the favor hoping to make an ‘Outstanding’ track with Kweli for the ladies. While this is another achievement for the pair, it just falls short of the previous collab they did called ‘I’m Ready’, not taking away from this track of course. Then there is the amazing ‘Can’t Barely Breathe’. I have to criticise Talib for making this a bonus track and not on the physical copy but I understand.
Prisoner Of Conscious has just entered Talib Kweli into the Album Of the Year 2013 race. There are not many who can test Kweli’s complex lyrical wordplay, over tracks that keep him current, at the same time delivering fresh sounds, and real life stories. Even the physical copy has one of the best inlays that hip hop has seen in long while, from his name written in Arabic to the different definitions of the album’s title. This is a definite purchase in either physical or digital, anything less makes you a Prisoner of Ignorance.