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Album Review: Talib Kweli – Prisoner of Conscious

May 9, 2013 by
written by

Talib Kweli

…do I even need to say anything about Talib Kweli that you do not already know? Can’t I just introduce the new album? Ugh, fine. So his 2011 effort Gutter Rainbows was a grossly mediocre effort; I don’t know who was to blame, and I don’t care. It may have been a Lupe/L.A.S.E.R.S.-like label lamentation, or it might’ve been Talib’s own deterioration in Kwelity; however with the release of his new album Prisoner of Conscious, there is elation in emphasizing how much it doesn’t matter because at least the latter has either been removed or rectified as a ponderous possibility.

First and foremost, this is arguably one of the most soulful Hip Hop albums that has been heard in a multitude of minutes, according to the tick tock of Hip Hop; it’s the kind of album where as a reviewer you don’t want to single out any songs because you want to comment on the fruitful production (courtesy of S1, Oh No, RZA and J. Cole to name a few) that is the bulk of the batch, but simultaneously you want your audience to be as pleasantly surprised as you were when you went into it virtually a blank slate. Ah shit, cornered into a conundrum.

Human Mic (produced by Oh No) is a banger of an intro that has the hunger that Kweli has been sorely lacking over the past few years, unloading multisyllabic rhymes reminiscent of Big Pun and older Eminem. The strings and piano complement each other as the backdrop to Talib’s ferocity, and thankfully don’t end here, violins returning for Push Thru and Hamster Wheel while piano returns on Before He Walked and team up with synthesizers to give Delicate Flowers a subtle g-funk sound which hits from left field. But the brass…the brass is what really stands out, even though its presence is of equal balance to pianos and violins.

High Life and Rocket Ships see the best of the brass, and both for their own reasons aside from being beautifully accompanied by drums. Where High Life finds its roots in the arena of gospel/rock’n’roll/swing rhythms, Rocket Ships uses its drums to beef up the already-prevalent Wu-stamp that RZA has imposed in its production…and have I mentioned that Busta Rhymes reverts to his beloved comical side once again?

Finally, Favela Love is strangely and quietly the richest in sound; a little low-key jazzy acoustic samba number featuring Brazil’s Seu Jorge, starting out with soft kick drums and synthesizers before its movement which seamlessly fuses Latin percussion, piano, guitar and maracas. No doubt one for those older, more seasoned folk who prefer the sonic company of Brazilian favelas…you know, without the gunshots.

Prisoner of Conscious also enjoys guest spots from a surprising number of names like Kendrick Lamar, Melanie Fiona, Floetry’s Marsha Ambrosius, Abby Jobson and Hip Hop’s newest go-to R&B crooner Miguel. While it’s great to hear the cram of intergenerational crème de la crème between Kweli and Kendrick on Push Thru (seriously, try to pick out which you prefer), you’re not particularly treated by the lacklustre, fairly predictable verses from Curren$y and Nelly on Push Thru and Before He Walked, respectively; one wonders if these were simply label-requested additions since neither of these two are cut from the same cloth nor sewn into the same suit as Kweli. That’s not to say that they ruin the songs they’re on, it’s just that nobody would miss them if they weren’t on them; if we’re to turn a negative into a positive it’s that we can tune out for their verses and bethink past collaborations with Mos Def, Common, Hi-Tek and Madlib…buuuuut if you’re a perpetual pessimist the negative remains so, albeit in a different light.

Also, Upper Echelon is obnoxiously driven by claps, hats and whiney synthesizers, and a more materialistic Talib (can’t even tell if he’s being ironic or not) which makes it sub-par to anything on the album lyrically and musically. This out-of-character trait ultimately becomes an out-of-place trait for the album holistically, detracting from what has up until this point been driven by intelligence, not ignorance. “What is dis? Dis da uppa echelon shit” – no, it’s just three-and-a-half minutes we could do without.

The best thing is that despite its daunting title, Prisoner of Conscious at no point takes itself too seriously, which grants the listener plenty of breathing room for fun without forced-and-reinforced philosophical musings. Naturally, Talib Kweli’s style ensures that almost every verse is thought-provoking but it’s swimmingly stripped of sermon-like sentiments and simply allows you to appreciate it aesthetically, which enhances its accessibility and replay value insofar as it is not mood-restricted (and you only need to hit ‘Skip’ once throughout the entire album).

If Gutter Rainbows left a gutter-taste in your mouth regarding the direction in which Kweli was headed, wash it out with this – easily one of the best Hip Hop releases of 2013 thus far.


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