Review ·

Why Talib Kweli didn't invite 9th Wonder, DJ Premier and Large
Professor over to the crib earlier this year and turn out a circa-'04 Illmatic is anyone's guess. Instead, he offers up The Beautiful Struggle,
an oddly varied fourth effort (counting his records with Black Star and
Reflection Eternal) that bounces between head-scratching and
head-nodding.

[more:]

Riding a wave of success that included the Kanye West-blessed hit single "Get By," big-ups from 50 and Jay, and a pre-Struggle
mixtape where Kweli held his own against his flashier, edgier
contemporaries, the hungry Brooklyn rhyme-bomber seemed poised to make
an album that fulfilled both his artistic and commercial potential -- a feat he's been working toward for the better part of six years.

The Beautiful Struggle doesn't live up to these
expectations, but it doesn't disappoint, either. The album's a series
of frustrations, highs and lows that drop you off somewhere in East
Bumblecheese. You'll flip over songs such as "Ghetto Show," where Kweli
duets with Common over a nostalgic Supa Dave West track, then you'll
wonder why the hell he desecrated "Planet Rock" for the watered-down
"We Got the Beat." "Going Hard" and "Broken Glass" are a pair of
scorchers, the latter of which could become a serious hit, but "Work It
Out" and "A Game" are flavorless and flimsy. It's this kind of
imbalance that makes you think Kweli's either afraid or unable to make
a full-length album that's focused and consistent.

And although his lyrics have long put him among hip-hop's elite,
Kweli's artistic choices are becoming more questionable, beginning with
his beats. If Struggle were a bar, we'd all be praying to
porcelain gods after digesting sweet sips of soul ("We Know" and "Black
Girl Pain," featuring a blazing turn by Jean Grae) mixed with
adrenaline shots of electro-trash ("A Game," "We Got the Beat"). Top it
off with a shameless attempt at recreating a hit ("I Try," a limp Kanye
West production) and watch the room spin with your eyes closed.

Struggle rebounds, and Kweli shows he's at his strongest
when he finds his groove (pun intended). "Never Been in Love" finds him
comfortable both thematically (a heartfelt rap about being scared to
commit to a relationship) and musically (over a Just Blaze banger). The
title track proves Kweli can be political and street-conscious in the
same breath; Hi-Tek's stirring backdrop is the perfect catalyst for the
verses. And "Around My Way" cleverly reworks the Police's "Every Little
Thing She Does Is Magic" into a reflective sermon on how national
problems facing the African-American community leak into local
neighborhoods.

Kweli's never been a polarizing artist. If the lyrical content is
too high in protein, there's usually a syrupy thump or a guest crooner
to make things more digestible. But in trying to tap into a wider
market, he sheds his higher purpose. He's not a chart-topper, and he
probably never will be. Struggle lets out a few peeks of the
artistry he is capable of producing, while noting the obvious missteps
that hold him back from doing so.

Somebody get 9th Wonder on the phone.

Discuss this review at the Prefix message board

Review of Kweli's "Beautiful Mixtape"

Review of Kweli's "Quality"

"Flash Gordon," "I Try" and live footage.

  • Going Hard
  • Back Up Offa Me
  • Broken Glass
  • We Know
  • A Game
  • I Try
  • Around My Way
  • We Got The Beat
  • Work It Out
  • Ghetto Snow
  • Black Girl Pain
  • Never Been In Love
  • Beautiful Struggle
Jukeboxer - In the Food Chain Earlimart Treble and Tremble

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