Dusted Reviews

Talib Kweli - Ear Drum

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Talib Kweli

Album: Ear Drum

Label: Warner Brothers

Review date: Aug. 28, 2007

There are alternatives to deadening cynicism and self-righteous fossilization. Among them is the embrace of contradiction, in as many capacities as imagination allows. All we have to fear is the fear of looking foolish. If that sounds pretentious, you might be in the wrong part of town.

Talib Kweli, best known to scene outsiders for his Black Star colabs with Mos Def, has certainly made an ass of himself on many occasions, though he’s not always the first to call himself on it. He’s let his ideas and ambitions carry him away far past the point of making sense to even his staunchest fans. He’s phoned it in with the most detached and calculating of them. And his fans have called him out, if not in the cipher, then in e-reams of message board bitchfests, particularly in the lively, esoteric sphere of the oft-mocked Okayplayer.com. But he’s not scared. On Ear Drum’s intro, he actually lets a slam poet do his hype. It’s a bold look, even for one of the boldest, most contradictory, least “accessible” MCs on the circuit. And thanks to the technological advances that’ve brought us all closer to the people who are the same kinds of nerds we are, he’ll catch a fresh round of shit for all of it.

Circa Ear Drum, all this virtual baiting has left him defensive, in a way that might leave his less plugged-in listeners wondering what they did to piss him off. While widely focused “conscious” tracks (“Hostile Gospel,” “Eat to Live,” “Everything Man,” the anti-religious “Give ‘Em Hell”) claim some responsibility for enlightening “the people,” the more personal material (the imagined Q&A session “Stay Around,” the deeply hostile “Say Something”) take the piss out of any fan egotistical enough to expect a personal stake in Kweli’s work. On “Stay Around,” one “conscious” strawman insists that Talib “never, ever get [his] mack on, please,” passively insisting that he’s an artist with the same physical urges as the Ying Yang Twins, but who still has “smart” things to say. But who’s actually going to take that away from him?

It’s a bit frustrating, coming from a guy who’s behaving like the most important rapper in the world. But if that sounds frustrating, you're definitely in the wrong part of town.

Ear Drum is his sprawling, messy 2007 manifesto, loaded with rhymes that take weeks to unpack, to say nothing of the bizarre diversity of producers and guests (Kanye West, Will.i.am, KRS-One, Justin Timberlake, UGK, Norah Jones, and pretty much everyone else you might think is part of the problem). And while Kweli’s selfish inconsistencies are hardly new to hip hop (check Ice Cube immediately post-N.W.A. and way-pre-Are We There Yet?, or Common (Sense) before he lost his… Christ, where to begin?) his arrogance and his complexity make a fascinating combination, particularly in the age of fragmentation. He might be the last of the New York boom-bap throwbacks worth bashing. Once he gets over his own fans, who knows what he’ll accomplish, or how hard it'll be to listen to it front-to-back?

By Emerson Dameron

Other Reviews of Talib Kweli

Prisoner of Conscious

Read More

View all articles by Emerson Dameron

Find out more about Warner Brothers

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.