If Talib Kweli’s last outing, Spring’s Prisoner Of Conscious, fell somewhat short of the Brooklyn MC’s usual high standards, then his latest release Gravitas, provides the record many hoped it’s predecessor would be.
Released just seven months on from Talib’s previous album, Gravitas serves as a satisfactory conclusion to a year where conscious hip-hop was at the forefront of 2013’s best releases. If Talib Kweli has long been recognised as one of hip-hop’s crowning ‘conscious rappers’, then recent releases by Joey Bada$$, Chance The Rapper and Earl Sweatshirt will have provided fans with a new wave of consciousness that suggests there is more to modern-day hip-hop than blind boasts and auto-tune.
A combination of strong lyrics, superb production (which hasn’t always been the case where Kweli is concerned) and well-chosen features make for an excellent project.
“Make good art”, Talib’s ‘Inner Monologue’ proclaims in the album’s opening track as he raps, “This about to be the realest shit you ever heard/I lynch rappers, got them hanging on my every word”. His worldplay is at it’s mind-bending best as he professes, “Control my center, ’cause I gravitate with gravitas/This my inner monologue/Burning down your party, ’cause I cocktails and molotovs”.
‘Demonology’ see’s Big K.R.I.T. join Kweli as the latter addresses his reputation on one of the albums best beats. “They like to put me on a pedestal for conscious rap”, spits Kweli as he goes on to address kids with guns, Pac’s assassination and the demons that torture him daily. A mazy guitar solo concludes the chaos before the melodic ‘State Of Grace’ addresses the many cultural and social struggles still prevalent in an art form that remains overwhelmingly misogynistic even in 2013.
Raekwon’s appearance on ‘Violations’ makes for a strong listen, as is often the case when the Wu-Tang master shows up to wax lyrical. The flows do not slow up as the album continues and Gravitas represents Kweli’s strongest MCing performance in years. The hook on The Underachievers assisted ‘New Leaders’ says a lot about Talib Kweli’s visionary mindset as he rhymes, “Wake up ’cause no, you’re not dreaming/Catch up with us ’cause we leaving/Got enough followers I’m looking for some new leaders!”
It seems fitting that this album dropped at almost the exact same time that Scarface questioned the authenticity of modern-day hip-hop. Just last week the Southern rapper claimed that “the powers that be are intentionally dumbing down our craft”, and a quick listen to any major urban radio station strengthens his claims. Yet, 2013’s new-wave have provided hope that this is not the route hip-hop has to go down, and old-timers such as Kweli help combat that idea with albums such as Gravitas, even if he would probably agree with the sentiment behind Scarface’s statements. There is nothing dumbed down about this album lyrically or sonically, and for Talib Kweli, Gravitas should provide a fulfilling end to a mixed year following the varied reception POC received.
In an age where major labels and radio stations won’t really push conscious rap, it is increasingly difficult for artists such as Talib Kweli to get the credit they perhaps feel they deserve. If his lyrical content has always been on point, then it is true that Kweli has sometimes been let down by his production. This is one of the most refreshing aspects of Gravitas; the beats are excellent from the opening monologue to the Illmatic-sounding ‘Colors of You’ that closes the album. It’s very ‘Brooklyn 1990s’, and that’s no bad thing.
His label Blacksmith Records’ well documented split from Warner Bros in 2008 was not the only sign that Kweli has perhaps been shafted by major labels at times in his career, and it is fair to say that he has had a lot less money put into the promotion of his music in comparison to many of his peers over the years. Yet, Gravitas serves as a timely reminder that Talib Kweli can mix it with the best when provided with the right platform to voice his thoughts. His rapping ability is unquestionable, as is the quality of this album.