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Kweli stays authentic, lacks excitement on new release

Dart Adams | 5/8/2013, 11:26 a.m.
Dart Adams Veteran MC...
Veteran MC Talib Kweli addresses the ?conscious? rapper label on his new album, ''Prisoner of Conscious.''
Veteran MC Talib Kweli addresses the “conscious” rapper label on his new album, “Prisoner of Conscious.”

There was a significant amount of Internet bellyaching after the track list for Talib Kweli’s “Prisoner of Conscious” was revealed and fans saw hitmakers like Nelly and Miguel on the album. These same naysayers must have forgotten that he has previously collaborated with a long list of artists including will.i.am, Justin Timberlake, Mary J. Blige, Faith Evans, John Legend and Norah Jones without compromising himself. What makes these new collaborations any different from his previous ones? The short answer is nothing. For those afraid that Kweli is trying to go pop with this album, fear not; he didn’t stray from what’s he’s always done. Unfortunately, it’s just not as good.

Kweli’s 15-song set on “Prisoner of Conscious,” the follow-up to 2011’s “Gutter Rainbows,” includes tracks that could appeal to those who aren’t already fans of his rapid-fire flow and thought-provoking lyrical content. Songs like “Turnt Up,” the Miguel-featured “Come Here” or the Melanie Fiona-assisted “Ready Set Go” might seem like he’s trying to reach out for some radio play or attempting to appeal to a wider audience, but again, it’s nothing he hasn’t done previously in his career.

Standout tracks like the Oh No-produced “High Life,” S1-produced and Curren$y and Kendrick Lamar-guested “Push Thru” and the RZA-produced, Busta Rhymes-featured “Rocket Ships” are in the minority on “Prisoner of Conscious.” Of the 15 selections, only about six qualify as “bangers,” five are “girl songs” and the rest are filler tracks.

The album is balanced both lyrically and sonically. Kweli addresses social issues eloquently on tracks like “Hamster Wheel” and the challenges of maintaining a relationship between two working people on “Delicate Flowers.” “Prisoner of Conscious” closes with the J. Cole-produced “It Only Gets Better” that features Marsha Ambrosius. While it’s a good song and Kweli’s flow is as deft as ever, this album fails to have the same impact of his previous work.

Kweli doesn’t stray far from the themes of his previous albums, nor has his lyricism fallen off, but this album lacks the excitement and bite of his previous material nonetheless. Fans of his back catalog should enjoy this project, but others might just come away feeling underwhelmed.