Last year I made a list if the top 15 rappers of all-time. I stand by it today, but after listening to Prisoner Of Conscious I may have to re-think it a little. I didn’t include Talib Kweli, but noted in the comments that if I had one more slot, he would share it with Mos Def. I left him off the list because honestly there was a gap between Beautiful Struggle and now where his albums just fell off a bit. They weren’t bad, but I didn’t feel like they were up to his potential.
He did some great one-offs in that time, including awesome appearances with Paper Diamond and Break Science. He wasn’t exactly coasting, but maybe he was spreading himself too thin. However, when I saw him live at Double Door a few weeks ago the man on stage was re-energized, vital. He really came out with a “take no prisoners” attitude and just destroyed the audience.
Some of the highlights from the set were new songs off Prisoner Of Conscious, and my anticipation level went sky high. I was finally excited about a Kweli record again. It’s out today and does not disappoint.
The featured guest list on Prisoner is like a who’s who of hip-hop: Busta Rhymes, Curren$y, Kendrick Lamar, Nelly-even the Portuguese singer Seu Jorge makes an appearance. The biggest surprise comes from Busta Rhymes-his verse on “Rocket Ships” is unbelievable. Kweli has always been smart about who he surrounds himself with on recordings. Usually on rap records I feel like there’s too many collaborations, but it feels right on this one.
Lyrics have never been a problem for Kweli, so it’s no surprise that they’re mostly brilliant on Prisoner. When it comes to rappers who wrote about the real problems facing our nation and the world, no one does it better than Kweli. He still manages to make it fun, too. Maybe that’s the most impressive thing about this record-it doesn’t feel like a lecture even though he’s schooling us as always.
For me, the top tracks off Prisoner are as follows: “High Life,” “Upper Echelon,” “Come Here,” and the album closer “It Only Gets Better.” The delivery on the final track in particular is excellent. Kweli jumps back an forth between pop culture references an old world adages like they’ve always belonged side by side. Marsha Ambrosius provides a beautiful voice to sing the chorus as well.
Prisoner Of Conscious dropped today, and I hope people pick it up. It pleases me to no end knowing that a rapper who has never had huge sales can still thrive in the music business and make the music that he wants to make. I’m looking forward to many more great records in the future.