Talib Kweli

    The Beautiful Struggle

    7
    Rawkus - September 28, 2004

    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.

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    Review of Kweli’s “Beautiful Mixtape”

    Review of Kweli’s “Quality”

    “Flash Gordon,” “I Try” and live footage.