Rawkus Records was in my mind the greatest label of all time. The label produced incredible albums from Talib Kweli, Hi-Tek, Mos Def, and their innovative Soundbombing compilations. They stressed quality and freedom over record sales. Consequently, their music flourished while their record sales were dismal. Hip-hop lost a great contributor the day Rawkus went under and we have yet to see a label reproduce the same amount of quality material.
Talib Kweli took full advantage of all Rawkus had to offer. He consistently chose to use his lyrics to motivate and educate, instead of to talk about cars, girls, money, and everything else we associate with stereotypical commercial rappers. Quality is no different as Talib’s subject matter ranges from 9/11 (“The Proud”) to the birth of his kids (“Joy”) to struggles in the ghetto (“Get By”).
The production on this album is absolutely phenomenal and leaves Talib an excellent canvas on which to paint his picture with his well-know wordplay. Kanye West delivers three tracks while DJ Quik, DJ Scratch, Megahertz, Ayatollah, and J-Dilla help with the majority of the rest. Talib seems to do some of his best work when working with Kanye as “Get By” is the best track on Quality. “Get By” is filled with an emotional piano loop, hand claps, and a choir, courtesy of Kanye, while Talib provides ghetto inspiration and spine-tingling wordplay. “Guerilla Monsoon Rap,” another Kanye track, features fellow lyricists Black Thought and Pharoahe Monch, and is a hip-hop fan’s wet dream. This track goes down like six shots of espresso as each MC delivers two short and vicious verses.
As vicious as “Guerilla Monsoon Rap” is, Talib unleashes killer Kweli on the aptly titled “Rush.” Over a high energy horn-laced Megahertz track, Talib takes no prisoners with a ferocious delivery and lyrical onslaught. “Joy” shows Talib’s more personal side as he describes the birth of his children. Mos Def joins Talib with his ad-libs and both of these MCs seem to be having a great time.
There are two songs on this album that are very out of the ordinary for Talib and happen to be the weak links on this otherwise solid album. “Shock Body” has an incredibly seductive beat by DJ Scratch, but sounds a bit commercial and has very little substance, a true Talib rarity. “Gun Music” has an equally intoxicating beat laced with Megahertz’s guitar, but seems to be promoting excessive gun use. Now Talib has definitively delivered us militant verses -- David Banner’s “Ridin’” comes to mind -- but they usually have a positive message or righteous cause behind the lyrical bullets. “Gun Music” just seems to be a bit excessive, especially when Talib lists different guns each paired with the sound of it cocking.
Talib is one of the best MCs out today and Quality is a very good album, although I believe it is a small step behind Reflection Eternal. I guess I would have never thought that the weaker points on this album would have had to do with lyrics instead of production. Maybe my expectations were too high, because any time Talib releases an album, the rating of an A is very reachable. This album just fell a bit short.
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