When Talib Kweli released Prisoner of Conscious earlier this year it appeared that he was finally turning a corner. He sounded better than ever, and most importantly comfortable in his own skin. Featuring artists like Miguel and Kendrick Lamar helped him establish a younger fan base, and the hope with Gravitas is that it’ll serve as a more formal introduction.
It’s a big risk because what’s been Talib’s biggest bugaboo is that his lyrics are far too academic for his own good, a theme that he beats to death no matter who he’s collaborating with. The conscious rapper dog tag that hangs around his neck is – for better or worse – his M.O., and it could be just too much Kweli for one year.
For his sixth solo album he’s fully embracing his role as teacher, and everything about his approach screams of vintage Kweli. No pop music, rabble-rousing. Just straight flexing from beginning to end, as heard on “Inner Monologue:” [LISTEN]
His selection in beats complements the creative direction too. Oh No has always been a good fit for Kweli – better than his brother Madlib - and together they establish a comfortable pace for his narratives to flow freely (“Rare Portraits“): [LISTEN]
At 11 songs, however, there isn’t much room for Talib to balance out the didactic nature of his lyrics. It’s rushed and to some degree reflects his inability to shift gears from educator to entertainer. At the halfway mark overly pedantic songs like “Demonology” and “The Wormhole” begin to wear thin. They touch upon some compelling ideas, but when it’s shot out of a cannon at a mile a minute it’s easy to tune out: [LISTEN]
Gravitas has merit, that’s never been an issue with Talib. But what it lacks is inventive progress. He hasn’t lived up to the expectations placed on him since breaking away from Black Star or even Reflection Eternal. Part of it has to do with his unbending approach, and part of it has to do with his inability to take that next step, for whatever reason.
His albums, Gravitas included, merely flirt with greatness. But until he’s ready to define himself outside this self-imposed struggle fans will continue to be disappointed with what’s now slowly becoming an antiquated style: [LISTEN]