Why don't I love this album? Talib Kweli is clearly one of the greatest rappers in the world -- he's proven that with Mos Def in Black Star, on his Reflection Eternal project with DJ Hi-Tek, and on countless guest spots on other people's records. He's conscious, he puts his money and heart where his mouth is, and he can bang toe-to-toe with anyone on the planet; and on this record he takes everything up a notch to make his splashiest, most ambitious record ever.
I'm loving "Rush," with its combination of the Rocky theme and Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" (nice concept track, that) and aggro lyrics to go with its aggro rock track: "I'm the illest MC and a man of my word / When I came out niggaz didn't understand it at first / I'm known to roll up my sleeves and put my hand in the dirt / We at war and I got a battle plan that can work." The next song, "Get By," is one of the most beautiful hip-hop tracks I have ever heard, with soaring gospel lyrics to undergird Kweli's inspirational words. "Joy" is a stirring paean to fatherhood; "Guerrilla Monsoon Rap" uses Pharaohe Monch and Black Thought to create a kick-ass posse cut the likes of which we haven't heard since Big Daddy Kane and De La Soul were in the house; "Talk to You (Lil' Darlin')" is some smoothed-out lover's rock hip-hop doo-wop for real.
So why don't I love this record? Well, I guess I don't know. Maybe it's because there are ten producers on these fifteen tracks, and it never really hangs together. Maybe it's because Kweli is clearly shooting for some big hits and that's not where his strength lies... but I don't think that's it, because I'd love Kweli at the top of the charts. Maybe it's because the second half of this long-ass album is just way too slow when it needs to bang, or because Jay Dilla's great cuts "Where Do We Go" and "Stand to the Side" are buried behind Ayatollah's boring "The Proud."
Or maybe it's because I expect more of a Talib Kweli joint than just a whole bunch of great songs that don't sound anything like each other. He's proven that he can do some beautiful long players, but this just sounds like someone else's greatest hits. Which isn't to say it's not one of the top 20 albums of 2002, because it is. But it shoulda been Top Ten.
Talib Kweli: http://www.talibkweli.com