“I’m at a loss for words, but even me being at a lost for words is amplified.”
These are the first words heard on Talib Kweli’s sixth studio album, Prisoner of Conscious and also what the Brooklyn emcee told Occupy Wall Street protesters in 2011 during his speech in New York City.
In the realm of Hip-Hop, Kweli is a ‘Human Microphone’: a talented, well-respected wordsmith who is viewed as a leader within the culture. He recently made headlines for publicly criticizing Rick Ross for his date-rape lyrics on Rocko’s latest single “UOENO,” which isn’t surprising as he’s always been one to strongly voice his opinions.
First and foremost, though, Kweli is an artist. He’s a good rapper—great even. His latest effort, however, is not.
POC is truly a glass half full. There are some bright spots, like the well-executed use of the intro and “Human Mic,” which ties together the Occupy Wall Street theme nicely, as well as “Push Thru,” featuring Curren$y and Kendrick Lamar and the Miguel-assisted “Come Here.”
Kweli also shines on the album’s last three tracks: “Favela Love,” “It Only Gets Better” and “Outstanding,” so much so that it’s difficult to understand why these gems are buried at the back of the album.
On “Favela Love,” a catchy tune with an infectious, Latin beat, the Brooklynite flows over the production effortlessly, while “Outstanding” does its title justice as Ryan Leslie provides a beautiful hook for Kweli as he raps about a young lady whose body is “…like an oasis” to a club full of thirsty men.
The album’s créme de la créme, however, is the J. Cole-produced “It Only Gets Better,” featuring Marsha Ambrosius. Aside from getting A+ production from Cole, Ambrosius compliments the record magnificently with a stellar vocal performance filled with beautiful runs. The track, with an inspiring message about persevering through hard times, sees Kweli encouraging those going through the everyday struggle while still dropping witty lines.
“..and you bust it out, ‘til you off of work. I know your boss a jerk, you won’t cuss him out. Hit him with the bus driver uppercut, that clock the only thing you punching out.”
And while the aforementioned songs are without a doubt enjoyable, that’s about as much as POC has to offer.
Tracks nine through thirteen are a five-song dry patch that saps the album of most of its energy. On three of the five songs during this stretch, Kweli offers lazy and uninspiring hooks—verse connectors and nothing more. Busta Rhymes’ appearance on the RZA-produced “Rocket Ships” was lackluster and the Nelly-assisted “Before He Walked” was deplorable from start to finish.
Surprisingly, while most hip-hop fans will agree that he’s one of the premier lyricists in the genre, POC is not short on uncharacteristically bad lyrics from Kweli. Punchlines like: ‘You a daiquiri with a shot of that Amaretto, you sweet as a girly drink’ on “Human Mic,” ‘Wait a sec,’ got ya girl wetter than tomato flesh,’ on “Upper Echelon,” ‘God’s favorite, I’m sick as a doctor’s patient,’ on “Rocket Ships” and ‘My soul is blacker than the Friday after Thanksgiving’ on “It Only Gets Better,” to name a few.
And though it’s not the most critical part of an album, track sequencing often plays a huge role in the impression a project leaves on listeners. Unfortunately, POC packs its best songs on the ends, leaving the heart of the album, for the most part, bare and uninteresting.
For every aspect of the album that deserves praise, there’s another that disappoints. Though it offers a handful of enjoyable songs, overall, POC is mediocre at best. Kweli isn’t at a loss for words for words here, not at all. Rather, it’s the albums inconsistency and lack of direction that results in a dull showing from one of the genre’s most talented emcees.
Click here to purchase Prisoner of Conscious on iTunes.
Brandon Neasman is a freelance writer who has penned articles for both national and regional publications, including usweekly.com and the Hard Rock Hotel’s Las Vegas magazine. A graduate from Florida A&M University, Brandon is an editor at mostlyjunkfood.com and a graphic designer for the Gannett Company, Inc. You can follow him on Twitter at @Bnease.