Even when folks couldn’t pronounce it, the name Talib Kweli was
synonymous with quality. So it’s fitting that his second sophomore
album bears that name.But Quality has
raised some controversy among the Kweli faithful. The general consensus
is that he is evolving a new style, and it’s creating a rift between
those who are feeling it and those who were disappointed by it.
Regardless of what fans say, Kweli claims that this album reflects his
personal musical tastes more than any other.
It’s obvious that Quality is much different from his previous effort, Reflection Eternal’s Train of Thought,
which was produced entirely by DJ Hi-Tek. Hi-Tek is nowhere to be found
here, replaced by a collection of producers with various styles.
Megahertz provides two guitar-driven tracks, “Rush” and “Gun Music,” J
Dilla produced the smooth cuts “Where Do We Go” and “Stand to the
Side,” and Kanye West brings the energetic “Get By,” “Guerrilla Monsoon
Rap” and “Good To You.” Kweli also hooked up with Ayatollah, DJ Scratch
and West Coast legend DJ Quik and samples artists such as Nina Simone
and Al Green.
While it might surprise some to see Kweli on a track called
“Gun Music,” with Cocoa Brovaz, his opening verse proves he’s not going
gangsta: “Punk niggas feel inferior/ Guns make ’em superior/ Cats start
acting scarier/ Situation gets hairier,” he says.
We catch a glimpse of his most personal thoughts in songs
like “Get By” and “Joy,” an ode to his wife and children. He remains
just as politically and socially active as he was on the Reflection
Eternal and Black Star records, but he reminds us on “Good to You” that
he can battle, too, saying: “I heard ’em say I was a conscious rapper/
But I’m a monster when I have to/ Smack the shit out of a nonsense
The strongest track is “The Proud,” which is about three
recent events. The first verse reflects on Timothy McVeigh’s execution,
the second on the drunken police officer that killed an entire Brooklyn
family last summer and the third on the terrorist attack of Sept. 11,
2001. “President is Bush/ Vice President’s a Dick/ So a whole lotta
fuckin’ is what we gonna get/ They don’t wanna raise the baby/ So the
election is fixed/ That’s why we don’t be fuckin’ with politics.” This
is Kweli at his best, spitting lyrics with passion and relevance.
The weakest point on the album is “Waiting for the DJ,” the
first single, which features Bilal. The track (with a beat way too
reminiscent to Mary J. Blige’s “No More Drama”) feels like a forced and
lackluster effort to reach out to the radio audience. Though Quality is not as consistent as Train of Thought,
it is a solid, soulful and thought-provoking record. The sound may not
be what you expect from Kweli and at times I was left longing for
Hi-Tek’s complementary influence, but his rhymes are dope.