Talib Kweli was once the darling of the media and the underground, particularly during his Rawkus days in the late '90s, but he's been subjected to harsh and (sometimes) unwarranted criticism for his more recent official releases Quality and The Beautiful Struggle. Kweli's acclaim may have waned in recent years, but that hasn't slowed him down. In a rare move for an underground emcee, Kweli has hit the mixtape circuit, helping to expand his fan base beyond coffee-shop chicks and white dudes. With the ever-growing infatuation with trap music, Kweli has taken a page out of Jeezy's and the Diplomats' playbook, dropping some of his best work via mixtapes and collaborating with everyone from MF Doom to Slim Thug. Right About Now is Kweli's latest and strongest mixtape, and it's highlighted by an invigorated Kweli who's back to his old sound-bombing ways.
Since Reflection Eternal's Train of Thought the most noticeable change in Kweli's music has been his production choices, dropping airy organic beats for more polished electronic backdrops. The transition manifests itself on the Dave West-produced "Flash Gordon." Although Kweli's flow melts over the track, the hard-hitting high hats and high-pitched keys distract from the lyrical picnic. Much the same can be said about the Keezo Kane-produced "The Beast," which is better suited for the rapid fire of Papoose than Kweli, who races through his verse trying to keep up with the up-tempo piano rifts.
Regardless of Kweli's production, he remains a lyrical bully. On "Ms. Hill," he pens an open and sincere letter to the sorely missed Lauryn Hill, offering a helping hand to reclusive artist: "You give us hope, you give us faith, you the one. They don't like what you got to say, but still they beg you to come, whoa. Now that's powerful, sis. It's black power."
Kweli remains a socially aware emcee (just a note: consciousness implies a special awareness, but the issues Kweli often refers to do not require a "special" awareness to recognize; wanting social equality is as natural as breathing, eating and procreating) on the West Coast-influenced track "Drugs, Basketball & Rap," featuring Plant Asia and Phil da Agony. The Kweli-laced hook is not an overt political statement a la Dead Prez or Public Enemy, but it speaks with brutal honesty and is true of the inherent African-American beliefs: "Niggas getting caught in the trap, for the cash./ It's the drugs, basketball, or the rap./ There is more to us than that."
Hate it or love it, Kweli has used mixtapes to maintain and progress his career and, unlike his contemporaries Mos Def and Pharoahe Monch, has kept his music first, holding down the underground scene. Right About Now may not satisfy all, but I have faith in Kweli's train of thought.
Kock Record Web site