Skip to main content

66. Talib Kweli - The Beautiful Struggle (2004)

I get frustrated by friends who don't like rap.

I mean, here are intelligent, well-educated, open-minded people who will dismiss an entire genre of music with a couple of words, words like "annoying" or "trashy." Yes, some rap music is annoying and / or trashy. But so is some rock, pop, country, jazz, classical and world music. Like any subset of music, rap is large, it contains multitudes.

Talib Kweli is one of those artists who deserves more attention for bringing something different to the game. Though commercially unknown, he's nonetheless highly respected for his verbal skills. On Get 'Em High from The College Dropout (considered by many the best album of 2004) Kanye West uses him to try to entice a woman, to which Talib responds "quit twistin' my arm / I'll assist with the charm."

Jay-Z, considered by himself (and others, but mostly himself) to be the best MC in the game, gave us this lyrical tidbit on The Black Album's Moment Of Clarity: "If skills sold / truth be told / I'd probably be / lyrically / Talib Kweli." A bold compliment, and you can tell Jay meant it because the line before he'd just been talking about how he dumbs down his lyrics to sell more records. (As J.R.Ewing once said: "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.")

On Ghetto Show, from his new album The Beautiful Struggle, Kweli doesn't quite return the favor. Instead, he agrees with Jay, saying: "If lyrics sold / then truth be told / I'd probably be / just as rich and famous / as Jay-Z." The message in this delayed call and response is clear; being a smart rapper (or rather, showing your intelligence in your lyrics) is not exactly lucrative. And we can hear Kweli dealing with this all over the CD. On I Try he tells us: "the label want a song about a bubbly life / I have trouble trying to write some shit to bang in the club through the night / while people suffer tonight."

Thankfully, what he seems to have realized is that songs about struggles don't have to be a struggle to listen to (thus the title of the album). The CD is filled with toe-tapping beats and catchy hooks, and barely drags throughout its 13 tracks. But at the same time Kweli doesn't sacrifice the lyrics. It can be an intoxicating mix.

Take the song Broken Glass. It's a sordid tale of a young girl who comes to the city with dreams of fame and ends up strung out and stripping. Nothing too surprising, save the fact that its set to a typically insinuating Neptunes track. Though that duo have produced a ton of recent hip-hop classics, it's easily their most affecting song, lyrically. And there's no happy ending: "She needed a ticket home if it's the right cost / instead she bought a ticket to ride the white horse."

And though there are a couple of self-aggrandizing songs (Back Up Offa Me, A Game), there's much more postulating than posturing. Other tracks approach the usual struggles of inner city life, politics (great line from the title track: "you try to vote and participate in the government / and the motherfucking Democrats is acting like Republicans"), love, and even the struggles of black women. Black Girl Pain actually celebrates the strength of African-American women (not their physical attributes, though when Kweli does that it sounds like this, from Never Been In Love Before: "thick like bifocals / stacked like 2 Pac vocals her body so loco.")

Unlike his Black Star partner Mos Def, Kweli has given us a concise, consistent, skit free long player. Less adventurous? Yes. More appealing? For sure.

Oh, and to those friends who don't like rap... all I ask is you add this small resolution for the new year, borrow this CD from me and give it a chance.

Grade: A-
Fave Song: We Got The Beat


Popular posts from this blog

Why Weezer is the Definitive Gen X Band

I’ve been thinkin’ ‘bout my g-g-g-generation.   One of the more fascinating side effects of the ever-intensifying culture wars is the emergence of generational mud-slinging battle between Baby Boomers and Millennials. Social media has played the role of both venue and promoter, and news outlets have done their best to cheer it on. As a member of the cohort that's situated between the two factions - Generation X - and thus removed from the fray, I've regarded this as an amusing sideshow in the never-ending circus of nauseating Internet discourse. The most illuminating part to me is how the conflict, and various reports about it, consistently omits the existence the generation between these two, and how very appropriate that is.   Now I'll start with the disclaimer that I'm well aware that no group of people is homogeneous. Generation X encompasses many different personality types, cultural experiences, economic realities, and a possible 15-year age difference (Gen Xers

20 From 2020

Every year since 2003 (coincidentally, the year I started this blog), I've made a compilation of some of my favorite songs of the year. I love the act of compiling and ordering, finding songs that speak to one another lyrically and that flow together seamlessly.  In order for the mixes to have longevity, I've typically avoided choosing too many songs that lyrically reflect the events of the year. That's gotten harder every year since 2016, and I was initially worried 2020 was going to be the tipping point. This year's mix might have looked a lot different if the presidential election had gone the other way. It would have certainly been more angry and despairing, and would have included such topical songs as Ben Folds's "2020," Ben Gibbard's "Proxima B," and Sloan's "Silence Trumps Lies." All good tunes, but I'm not sure how much I'll want to revisit them. Thankfully, instead, we have a mix with a variety of moods and cov

12 More by Jimmy Eat World

Sometimes an artist just needs 12  more  songs to summarize their career. Case in point... Sometimes your favorite band sneaks up on you. I'd been a Jimmy Eat World fan since the late 1990s, and have never missed one of their albums. But they didn't become my favorite band until a 2013 concert at First Avenue, where I found myself singing along with every single song by heart. It was then that I realized that for every phase of my adult life, Jimmy Eat World has been there to soundtrack it. You'll definitely want to check out the  12 by Jimmy Eat World  list to relive the first part of their career. 1. "Big Casino" (from Chase This Light , 2007) A highly caffeinated tune that contains one of my top ten all-time Jimmy Eat World lyrics: "Well there's lots of smart ideas in books I've never read / When the girls come talk to me I wish to hell I had." 2. "Always Be" (from  Chase This Light , 2007) Chase This Light came out when I was 30 yea