Kweli's collaborative work has set the bar so high that his solo efforts routinely fail to meet these exalted expectations.
Talib Kweli has always been an MC to admire rather than love. A conscientious, considered rapper, his collaborative work – the amazing Blackstar album with Mos Def, and the Reflection Eternal project with producer Hi-Tek – has set the bar so high that his solo efforts routinely fail to meet these exalted expectations. Ear Drum, his third album, released on his own Blacksmith label, gives him another chance to redress this imbalance.
Sadly, the same failings re-emerge. Kweli is missing that X-Factor, the sparkle that would nudge him from good to great. He is a remarkably solid performer – there is barely a misstep on the record – but whether it’s the phalanx of producers employed or the album’s glaring length (80 minutes!), you emerge with no clear idea of Kweli’s true identity. He is a hip-hop chameleon – able to blend in seamlessly, but unable to stand out.
Which is a shame, as there are plenty of moments on the album where he hits paydirt, reminding you of his obvious talents. His tight, faultless flow is at its best on ‘Country Cousins’, ‘Eat To Live’ and ‘Soon The New Day’. Kweli’s skills are malleable, wrapping themselves seamlessly around a smorgasbord of beats and grooves. However, it’s telling that Kanye West’s cameo on ‘In The Mood’ sees the uber-producer snatch the initiative from Kweli a little too easily. A lot to admire then, but not enough to love.