You ever hear a Black person describe themselves as all kinds of different nationalities on some Cablinasian shit? They half Black and Filipino or they got Indian in their family? Talib Kweli, one of the most skilled and consistent conscious rappers of all time, is intent on convincing the world that he is NOT a conscious rapper. His new album, Prisoner of Conscious is the equivalent of the fake bowlegged walk or the Hawaiian Silky weave.
The beats are not to the level of his better albums and Talib’s lines, once his trademark, have devolved to predictable and occasionally sorry exposition. Also muted is his once serpentine flow which undulated and slithered, along with his syllable-packed verses around those beats. His normally razor-sharp precision is also conspicuously absent from this disk.
Prisoner of Conscious opens well enough with Human Mic. There are some solid lines but the tempo is slower than Kweli’s optimum speed and the beat is very haughty and dramatic but it serves well as an intro. Turnt Up finds Kweli aping Rakim’s Paid In Full and Tribe’s Steve Biko, minus the gruff gravitas and smooth delivery of Ra. Kweli is right at home at this pace and it serves as one of the highlights of the album.
Miguel guests on Come Here, a song that would be fine if Kweli weren’t the MC on it. His persona is just not believable as a love interest and the line “colder than Minnesota” is so pedestrian that I’d never have thought him capable of dropping it. High Life is another high point with a Fela Kuti Afro rhythm that is infectious even as it exists outside of the traditional Hip-Hop paradigm. The track is full of live and dynamism and guests Rubix & Bajah share mic time with seamless chemistry.
Ready Set Go injects more R&B into the album with Melani Fiona on the hook. It’s a filler track that doesn’t elevate the track to a potent enough single. Kweli is flowing with his usual bounce and there is some slickness but the synth and grooves are meh. Also in the treading water territory is Hold It Now. Curren$y steals the show, along with fellow guest Kendrick Lamar, on Push Thru with his calm delivery and trademark rhyme density. Talib is outclassed by both Spitta and Lamar and it’s not even close.
The strings and the horns of Hamster Wheel create a beautiful landscape and Kweli weaves a thrilling narrative that is unfortunately not typical of the rest of the album. Delicate Flowers ruins that momentum by pandering to chicks with a formulaic song with a horribly lame hook. The highlight of the album is the RZA-produced, Busta-guested Rocket Ships. The track injects some much need masculine to the album and Busta Rhymes polishes his collabo crown with a thunderous verse. Unfortunately that momentum is all but squashed with the overly dramatic Before He Walked, featuring Nelly and Abby Dobson.
The less said about the Born To Roll rip-off Upper Echelon, the better. When an artist does a song like this you will hear buzzwords of growth and stepping out of the box. Don’t fall for it. It’s a reach and it’s wack. Let’s move on. Favela Love is more of that extra shit, sounding eerily close to the closing note of Kendrick Lamar’s album and probably should have been done by the artist formerly known as Mos. It Only Gets Better is a failed attempt at one of those rousing Get By songs without the oomph.
Prisoner of Conscious is ultimately derailed by Kweli’s seeming belief that something is wrong with him being a superior conscious emcee. He abandoned his songwriting principles in favor of blatant formulaic crossover songs that ultimately fail. Hopefully his next album will be more conscious. This one will leave you unconscious.
Out of 5
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