Kweli’s latest struggles, and is anything but beautiful

By By Matthew Piper

By Matthew Piper

The Beautiful StruggleTalib KweliRawkus RecordsThree out of five starsMatthew PiperStaff WriterFollowing an Eric B./Rakim stylecollaboration with Hi-Tek on ReflectionEternal-the solo debutof BlackStar’s lesser-known half-Talib Kweli felt the need in hissophomore album to distinguishhimself from the team structure,Kobe-style.Through his sampling of mainstreamproducers, Kweli has establishedhimself as a serious emergingicon in the rap industry, to thedismay of those who had appreciatedhis independent, cult-like status.The commercialization of theunderground giant continues itscrawl forward in his third release,The Beautiful Struggle.In “Quality,” Kweli told us howto pronounce his name-this timehe reminds us that it rhymes withJay-Z (in a nonetheless appropriateshout-back). If the first time youheard of Kweli was on the latter’s”Black Album,” well, you’re probablygoing to enjoy this transition.Disappointed coffeehouse dwellerscan take solace in Hi-Tek’sthree production appearances anda persistent devotion to maintaininga high degree of “social consciousness,”thetrait most oftenassociated withthe non-gun-totingBrooklyn native.Tek’s R2D2-inspired”Back UpOffa Me” serves asa sounding boardfor Kweli’s mostprevalent message-money isimportant to him,too, and he’s interested in makingsome. In “Broken Glass” Kwelireaches his utmost potential as acommercial rapper-slickly flowingover a typically solid Neptunesbeat.”I Try” is an unfortunate attemptat rediscovering the success of the2002 single, “Get By.” Mary J. Bligebellows over another frustratinglysyncopated “Kanye West production,”and well…U student JordanPond puts it best: “They tried.”One of the album’s low-pointssparks a recessionary period thatcontinues through “Around MyWay” and “We Got the Beat,” thelatter of which is flat-out disturbing.Seriously, avoid this one.A synthesizer, an electric guitar,Kweli running out of breathon a verse, lyrics like “You ain’tno emcee like me/you just a clonelike KFC,” and a chorus of “We gotthe beeee-at to make the planetraaaaaaaaawk! (Just rock!)” are theimpetus for a powder keg of a songthat inspires much ado about migraines.Hi-Tek and Kweli”Work It Out” haspotential to breakyour cell phoneprovider’s “Top 20Tones!!!” list.”Ghetto Show” isanother gem, followedby the verypersonal “BlackGirl Pain,” a tributeto his daughter’sstruggles, havinggrown up with split parents.In a surprising turn, Just Blazelays the track on one of the album’ssoftest numbers,”Never Been inLove”.Hi-Tek playsthe role of closerin the titlesong, on whichKweli reinforceshis major themethroughout thealbum: “I speakat schools a lot/cause they saythat I’m intelligent/No, it’scause I’m dope/if I was wack/I’dbe irrelevant.”Kweli is bothdeftly intelligentand dope, but he doesn’t seemcomfortable being both simultaneously.While he straddles the line betweencommercial and undergroundrap, his choice of producersseems to indicate that he’s sickand tired of his humble image. Thealbum has a shiny major-label feelthat never really goes away despiteinterludes of a few of the dreamy,velvety backdrops that have alwaysallowed the loquacious rapper toshine.Pride usually seems to be the impetusfor conscious-turned-commercialrappers-and in Kweli’snative Brooklyn, the mainstream isthe proving grounds.It feels awkward hearing hismanufactured poetry hamperedby glossy beats that don’t allow forthe potentialof his naturalflow. The resultis somewhatsub-parunder the scrutinyof repetition.Thoughit’s worth yourtime now, listenerscanonly hope thatThe BeautifulStruggle is justa misstep.Until then,Kweli’s new albumis steadilyworking itsway from thefront seat of your car, to the backpage of your most obscure CD caseWe know you try, Kweli. Just trynot to sell out so hard, that’s [email protected]