Talib Kweli & Madlib
Hip Hop's collaborative spirit is quite healthy right now. The past few years have sparked several full-length pairings of emcees and producers eager to show their strength in numbers. Industry-wide, artists have frequently connected to jump genres, mesh styles and redefine the scope of modern music. After emcee/singer Cee-Lo Green and producer Danger Mouse mesmerized ears as Gnarls Barkley in 2006, people are definitely eager to hear more of their favorite artists work together.
Noted lyricist Talib Kweli and respected beatsmith Madlib are taking the burgeoning mash-up era to new heights with Liberation, a free album distributed exclusively through the Internet. Forming a musical two-headed dragon, The Bad Kid frequently sets-up fiery beats that Kweli spikes with an intricate yet unforced delivery. Though the connecting artists lack the seamless emcee/producer chemistry of Reflection Eternal, they have a balanced sound and understated charm that plays to each member's strengths. The newly-formed duo straddle time with Over the Counter, a mix of futuristic funk and classic drums that Talib naturally meshes with when he raps, "I went to college, then I left/that's when I got my education."
Both he and his musical counterpart supply ample material throughout Liberation. Madlib backs "What Can I Do?" and "The Show" with slightly-chopped strings to give both songs a soulful blaxploitation-era tone. "The Show" finds Kweli quickly setting the album's standard for strong wordplay and insight. His musings run the gamut from mundane bragging ( "Y'all niggas can't hang like a loose noose") to serious struggles ("Fighting spiritual wars like the Shiites or the Sunnis").
The 'Libs invite friends and affiliates to aid their efforts on only three songs, but all guest appearances are well-placed. Queens native Consequence lends his relaxed cadence to the equally-smooth "Engine Runnin," which has a touch-and-go guitar lick and low-key drum loop. Cons tells a descriptive short story that complements his host artist's verse and helps create an engaging tale. Strong Arm Steady, recently inked to Kweli's Blacksmith Music imprint, also contribute a solid guest performance to "The Function." The Cali wordsmiths confidently take hold of the track's penetrating piano melody and match their label boss's intensity. Krondon's gravelly voice hits hard and Chace Infinite's lyrics are clever, but it's Phil Da Agony who best reps the team as he aggressively raps, "I promise you this/One line will make you Famous like Travis and shit."
Despite stellar production, quality lyrics and sound vocal performances, all is not right with Liberation. The record's greatest fault isn't stylistic; it's duration. Though nearly all nine songs are excellent, four span a little more than two minutes (something that Madlib tends to do), which leads to a brisk total running time that barely passes 30 minutes. Quality over quantity is always commendable - especially when today's musical trends advocate sub-par skits and songs added just to meet a track quota. But Liberation often teases listeners and then fades away just when things get exciting. The music captivates and than releases too quickly. I guess you can't complain about a free album though!
Talib Kweli and Madlib breaking free from conventions still makes for an appealing project. In fact this is Kweli's best album since Reflection Eternal in 2000, proving that maybe he just needs one producer to guide him along. As shorts as it may be, time missing is slightly better than time wasted.