Talib Kweli – Prisoner of Conscious – The STiXXclusive Review

I’m at a loss for words
But even me being at a loss for words is amplified
Do you wanna know what the end game is?
This is the end game
Everyone here with a camera
Everyone here with a Smartphone
Everyone here with a voice
Do your job and spread the word and make it grow
It’s about growth now, we have to grow
And that’s the point. I love y’all.

Talib Kweli is one of those artists that you’ve heard of, probably heard some songs from, but not one that a lot of people (at least that I know) either listened to a lot and/or appreciated. It’s like he’s always spent his career under the radar because of his pro-black approach and his lyrics are filled with consciousness that makes you pay attention. He’s a dope lyricist that is a true product of the Hip Hop culture that I feel deserves more recognition for his poeticism. When they talk about the best rappers from Brooklyn, how many times do you hear Talib Kweli mentioned? Not many and that’s pretty sad, because he really is one of the best. On this new album (that was pushed back many times), he proves that he is able to keep his style consistent whereas most are trying something new to grab a hold of a new and younger audience. A couple of people I spoke with said that this is really reminiscent of his Eardrum album (I hadn’t heard it, so I decided to give it a listen to see where the comparisons came from).

The title of the album, I believe relates to the fact that many people are prisoners of their own minds and need to free themselves – wake up to the world around them to understand just what it is that they need to do. A lot of the songs promote positivity, offer lessons of perseverance and also puts him in the shoes of the people whom he was raised around – the poor, less fortunate and the ones who deal with everyday struggle. Being from Toronto, a big city of sorts, isn’t the same as being from New York. There’s more pride and more love that comes from the heart of that city, and that was emphasized on Human Mic

I exhibit characteristics of the average misfit
Who graduated from stabbing and grabbing a biscuit
It’s sick and tragic how antagonistic we get
When it’s no power go sour,
I seen him crossing a bridge by the masses,
Covered in the ashes of both towers.

Continuing with the opening sermon of the album, human beings have so much access to make their voices heard with the advances of technology. People are making video blogs instantly from any and every device out there, so they have the power to greatly emphasize their usage of their first amendment (freedom of speech). Talib (to me) has always had that Black Panther soul within him, when it comes to his ‘fight the oppressor, be the successor’ stance that he has flowing in his lyrics (listen to any of his albums to get where I’m coming from). You can tell that this album from the get go was going to bring Hip Hop back down to the core roots – preaching on Social issues and instilling a positive message through and through.

New school flavour with an old school soul, Turnt Up channels in Talib’s inner Eric B. & Rakim style. I think that it’s inevitable that the ‘turn up’ phase has grasped all rappers to a certain degree even if they didn’t intend on touching it. In this case, I don’t think Talib is embracing it, he’s mocking the new “culture” that has seemingly oversaturated Hip Hop and has drowned out just what Hip Hop is supposed to be like (then you have the ‘bringing it back’ division of Hip Hop that follows right behind). I like the fact that he sampled Paid In Full and used it in this way. It takes a couple of listens to get the idea behind it, but that’s what Talib’s music has always intended – music to make you think.

It seems as if you’re ever going to make a song for the ladies, throwing Miguel on the track like Talib did for Come Here would serve you justice. This felt like comfortable lounge music that was really classy and serene. It’s not the “hey lil mama let me give you this and that; I can change your life,” it’s more so an opening up of emotions for that real love, not something that is cheap and fabricated like much of what’s portrayed in the media as love. With references to Common & Mary J.. Blige’s classic ‘Come Close’ and Barack & Michelle Obama’s open and lovingly marital portrayal throughout the years, it’s evident that Talib is looking for real love (he’s searching for that real love).

I’ve definitely feeling the production of this album thus far because it’s heavily sampled and the styles are diverse so that it doesn’t sound the same throughout track by track. High Life kicks it up a notch not only musically, but I’ve always been a fan of the back-and-forth lyrical play between rappers just exchanging rhymes – that’s always been dope to me when done properly. With a jazzy background propelling it, Kweli and Rubix (no cube) rhyme about the state of Hip Hop right now (while throwing in some metaphors here and there) and that it’s different from what you’re used to hearing:

We do it for the dinner plates, musical we innovate
You imitate, your theory full of holes and so we ventilate
Damn it, never gonna say they love what we doing on stage
Even if they don’t want quote and the hate just integrates – Talib

Tell us how you really feel, Talib. You can sense an annoyance of what’s going on and what’s popular, and while many people will consider this simply complaining – somebody has to say it. No one stands out (as much) anymore, and a lot of people want the culture to change, especially of what’s being portrayed in the mainstream. I’m not mad at it at all – there need to be good ambassadors in Hip Hop.

If there’s one artist from my own backyard that I’m really proud of, it’s Melanie Fiona. The steps she’s taken to grow as a big artist, winning Grammys and working with the biggest names, it brings one thug tear to my eye when I talk about her and see her progression. I’ll never forget being in Scarborough (bom bom) sitting with my boys and BET was premiering a video of hers (I don’t remember which one), and I said “Dawg, THAT’S US right there.” Buy “us” I obviously meant homegrown talent, and there’s no excuse why we can’t get on that level. Much respect to Drake for his success, but I value and appreciate Melanie’s career path because there’s a greater sense of humility with it – that’s just me. With that being said, it was great that Talib got her on a song, because it’s just fitting to have great talent mix with great talent. Ready Set Go wasn’t particularly one of my favourites (the beat was plain to me), but Melanie did her thing and I couldn’t help but to feel good for her. Talib’s success has flown under the radar for a while, but the keyword here is success. He has it, and this song reiterates that notion. Aside from Melanie’s appearance, I would just skip this. It’s cool, but it’s shrug worthy.

Hold It Down is something that I look at like Jay-Z’s ‘PSA’, obviously not in the same dynamic impact that PSA had, but when it comes to a reintroduction (which Talib has been doing so throughout the course of this album), he’s letting us know that going on 13 years, he’s still one of the rappers being consistent with his sound and that other rappers need to take notes if they want to be able to have longevity in a rap career. It’s like one of the older heads of the block giving lessons to the youth, while throwing jabs at what not to be in the industry

I see you fronting with your dollar store shades on,
Faker than abs that’s sprayed, artificial as rayon
Shung when I’m forming like Voltron of young Raekwon.

Continuing his album with features full of budding talent, Push Thru was the first single that was released (months ago) that featured the likes of Kendrick Lamar & Currensy. Many people consider Currensy to be a legend already, while others predict that Kendrick will eventually be one. However which way you want to spin it, it’s a great collaboration on the track, pitting 3 rappers from geographically different locations, different rap styles, but all in the game for a common cause – to get through their struggles to become successes. It seems like it’s worked for each one of them. Everyone knows that Kendrick Lamar bodies his verses (that’s not being biased, that’s just factual), but the truth is that everyone brought their A-game on this track. I actually had this track on repeat for a long time because I’m all for the message of perseverance and getting through barriers in order to progress and flourish in life. It’s definitely my favourite from the album.

We can all relate to living life on a Hamster Wheel at one point in life – running in one place with no sense of direction. The problem with the Hamster Wheel is that you’re not going anywhere in life, and you’re just doomed to live life in mediocrity and unnecessary repetition. In this case, the proverbial hamster wheel deals with a girl who seems to be doing the same thing over and over when it comes to guys and relationships – she’s not going anywhere, but wants to progress. A lot of people can relate to this, because they’re trying to get somewhere but are heading nowhere at the same time. A 9-5 job is what people become comfortable with until it’s like “oh shit, WTF am I gonna do now” (Big K.R.I.T reference); another gem on the album that I appreciate.

I don’t know why Delicate Flowers was only 2 verses but 3 minutes in length. I have this thing against unnecessary filler when it isn’t needed, but the intent of this song was strong. In the beginning, Talib states that “these times, it’s hard being a man,” and there are definitely those times when women won’t understand just what goes on through the minds of men. But, at the same time, men have to understand that women are naturally emotional beings and we have to be more sensitive to that fact, whether we like it or not. It’s a different world now, and since self-expression is more public (blogs & social networking), there are simply things that can’t be avoided when it comes to the airing of grievances. The best that men can do is to think more with their heads than with their dicks. We’re all guilty, let’s be real, but in order to mature and fully appreciate a woman, you have to look at it from their perspective, because if you don’t treat flowers well, they wilt – think of it like that.

Busta Rhymes was one of my favourite rappers for a certain time, and then I don’t know what happened (Young Money possibly), but he didn’t really have anything mind-blowing as far as music was concerned, but everyone knows that he can lay down a dope verse when need be. The RZA is a legendary producer that seems to just continue making good music over the course of 2 decades. Rocket Ships brings two of the legends on this Talib track and straight up, it’s fire all around. Busta showed flashes of Leaders of the New School and I was all for it (and then I heard his Twerk It track *sigh*), but Busta, I need a word with you – DON’T DISS BACON! RZA the razor definitely hit em with the major on this one.

From Busta Rhymes to … Nelly? You just don’t know who’s going to show up next on this album it seems. I wouldn’t picture Nelly as the type to rhyme some deep tracks that ignite the soul, but he did his best attempt on Before He Walked (I think it’s because we all know Nelly as the party track, and fun-rappity rap rapper for the past 10 years):

Music gave me knowledge of self
And I’m a knowledge-ous self, then gave me knowledge of wealth

Nelly might not be a great rapper, but he knew how to make songs and Country Grammar is one of the best selling Hip Hop albums of all time, so we have to give him credit for that. He’s made his name, had some scars along the way, but he’s managed to still come out on top, without people really knowing all too much about it. A lot of people associate music as religion. As the great Kanye West said:

            Is Hip Hop just a euphemism for a new religion? (Gorgeous)

It would appear so, Mr. West. It would appear so. He also said that “the devil is a live, I feel him breathing”, and that devil in Talib’s case has been the poison that has been spewed over Hip Hop which he aims to battle with intellectual lyrics and bringing it back to the basics like it always should have been. It’s clear that Talib is clearly serving as a protector of the beloved genre, and there are many like him, but the truth is – not a lot of people are here for it. The different generation demands what they demand, and record labels force feed whatever nonsense they give to the people – it’s sad, but it’s the truth. The underground and underrated are those who are becoming more appreciative, but the culture is slowly changing.

Keeping with the spiritual references, Upper Echelon channels yet again another old school vibe (I know the name of this sample, but the words won’t come out) and if you heard Attack The Block (Talib’s mixtape with Z-Trip), there’s a bit of techno influence in there. Talib feels (and knows) that he’s in a higher category in Hip Hop than people give him credit for. Because he’s been labeled as a conscious rapper, that doesn’t draw a lot of people into listening (it’s like having that one Christian friend that you don’t wanna hear preaching). I like that he switched it up a bit and sounded more futuristic, but it’s definitely a track that Hip Hop purists will appreciate because of the vintage reference.

Favela Love reminded me a lot of Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Real’, and then I looked at who produced it – Terrace Martin (it all makes sense). It’s definitely a two-stepper, and I wish I knew Spanish so that I could understand what Seu Jorge was saying, but it’s definitely one for the lovers to enjoy. I love the European vibe that it gives off (I could picture this showing up in a movie for an intimate restaurant scene somewhere). Romance has definitely been a theme throughout this album that has been embraced, so go and get your romance on – it’s Spring, rejuvenation; all that crap (word to George Costanza)

Our ultimate (meaning last) song of the album comes produced by Jermaine Cole (look at Jermaine flourishing), and you can tell that it’s a J.Cole beat (he has this signature to his beats that somewhat tries to emulate old Kanye). Starting and ending the album on a positive note, everything that’s negative doesn’t last forever – it’s all temporary and It Only Gets Better. Marsha Ambrosius provides a soulful sound and hearing her singing the hook just gives you a sense of hope and positivity. There’s a lot of quotes that you can take from this track and apply to your everyday life, and a few stuck out to me:

Your job is what you get paid to do,
Your call is what you’re made to do.

Steady talking bout how stressed you are,
Better talk about how blessed you are.

Lord knows I had it hard today,
Had it hard today
Still I gotta keep my head up high along the way.
Cause it only gets better, better

I like that the album ends on this note and evokes a vow of feel-good music to walk away from, and it’s an album that you can repeat on and on for the people who are tired of hearing the generic noise that has been clouded through the mainstream waves. It’s a well rounded album and one of the best of the year so far (it’s only May, and the year is promising). On the Bonus edition, Outstanding is the track that didn’t make the regular cut, but having been produced by Boi-1da (Canadians just flourishing), it’s a dope song that again brings out the romanticism of it all, as Talib spits his game to woo the females. It’s jiggy, bouncy, and the Red Rat reference (AY YOU GIRL INNA DI TIGHT UP SKIRT), I had to bring myself to appreciate this through and through. See – I can take this music over Marvin’s Room and all of that simpy nonsense. Happiness is progress, I can’t drown myself in misery although love is a clash of extreme emotions, both positive and negative.

Talib Kweli may not go on to be the most appreciated rapper when it’s all said and done for his career, but looking at his catalogue and everything that he’s been able to assemble for the fans to listen to, I can only hope that a new wave of fans stems from this album and will open their eyes and ears to just what they’ve been missing over the years. It’s never too late to get caught up on good music, since it seems that’s all people these days are complaining about – the lack of good music around and they feel that no one is making it anymore. Leave it to a seasoned veteran to step it up and knock one out of the park. This is a great album, I can definitely see myself purchasing it, and I highly recommend anyone to buy it if they are truly looking desperately for that ‘real hip hop.’ This is my opinion, this is my review, but for now

That’s My Word & It STiXX

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