Wednesday, October 06, 2004


what'd I do?

With all due respect to esteemed peers, I just don't get why so many people are universally hating on Talib Kweli's Beautiful Struggle. The hate is so intense, you'd think it was an unsalvagable disaster but once I finally listened to it myself, I couldn't figure out what was supposed to be so irredeemably bad about it.

Let's just be honest though: it's not a great album and is less consistent than Quality which is saying a lot since Quality wasn't exactly a magnum opus either. Kweli still suffers from the same issues as last time: he wants to be something akin to the thinking man's Camron - ok, bad example. He wants to be at the meeting point between Common and Jay-Z but inevitably, that kind of duality creates problems. Beautiful Struggle has its share of bad songs - none worse to me than "Around My Way." I love The Police but there needs to be some kind of moratorium placed on any rapper who wants to interpolate any of their songs found on their Greatest Hits album. This is almost as bad as Puffy's "I'll Be Missing You" and decidedly worse than Tupac's "Changes" (normally, a Bruce Hornsby interpolation would trump, but since 'Pac was dead, I can't really hold him responsible).

And yes, I agree, Kweli's production team lays some duds on this one, especially those weak, fad-driven rock-meets-electro detritus like "A Game" and "Going Hard." It's as if Kweli's production team heard Kanye's "Throw Ya Hands Up" and just bit his steez but only half as good.

But c'mon people, it's not like this is Kweli's Nastradamous or anything (heretofore known as one of the worst albums ever made by a good artist). "Back Up Offa Me"? Catchy. "Never Been In Love"? Corny but enjoyable. "Ghetto Snow" and "Black Girl Pain"? Smart, emotive songs. "I Try"? A decent radio single. The way people are going off on this, I thought it'd be pure garbage but really, there's half a good album lurking here. That doesn't make Beautiful Struggle an instant classic or anything, but it's worth checking out. I suspect some fans are just disappointed that Kweli seems to be moving further away from the aesthetics of Black Star and Reflection Eternal and while I'm sympathetic to that point of view, nostalgia for '98 is wasted energy.

What Kweli really needs is just a solid producer to work with - I don't know if that's Hi-Tek, Kanye or someone else, but he needs that anchor like LL needed Marley or KRS needed Premier, you dig?

ADDED: Just to be very clear about this: Beautiful Struggle has flaws. Many of them. I'm not giving a rousing endorsement. But it's just not that bad. You'd think it was like, I dunno, Blueprint 2 or the second Royal Flush album. If people find it boring - ok, fine. But there's been a lot of boring albums in 2004 thus far, and none of them have attracted the same level of ire. Maybe I'm just not as annoyed by the album since, well, I have lower expectations of Kweli based on the inconsistencies of Quality.

Actually, now that I really think about it, that probably says more than anything else - I just don't have that much invested in Kweli. In contrast, I expected (ok, wanted) more out of the Roots' The Tipping Point, largely explaining my disappointment with it. With Kweli's album, I just have very little compulsion to write on it at all.


I forgot to make mention of this before, but the folks at Tha Hip have been good enough to help reprint some of my older album reviews, most of them dating back to the late 1990s when I was a total hack-o-rama, churning out copy like a madman for such heralded (*cough cough*), now-defunct sites such as Addicted to Noise/SonicNet, Wall of Sound, and (ah, the good 'ol days of the money train).

It's sometimes strange to read old work. There's the pain of recognizing bad writing dressed up fancy (I did/do with more frequency than I'd like). There's the surprise of opinions I held once that I have since shifted - flip-flops in today's political parlance. And then, occassionally, there is the rare piece that surprises simply because it managed to say everything I wanted it too - a rare personal achivement for any writer in any medium.

Three that stood out: 1) Snoop Dogg's The Game Is to Be Sold, Not Told. This really was a terrible album but it's a testament to Snoop's fortitude that he managed to survive such a career low. "Drop It Like It's Hot"? Ridiculously hot.

2) A Tribe Called Quest's The Love Movement This review had some regrettable prose ("aural art" was a particular favorite of mine back then) and I was probably being far too nice to Tribe since they had broken up just previous to the LP's release. But my opinion hasn't changed that much: I still think it's a better album than many die-hard fans gave it credit for, but it was a limited album, with many songs that lacked a real sonic anchor. "Busta's Lament," - then and now - still brings a smile and "Find a Way" and "Like It Like That" may not be as classic as "Award Tour" but their appeal hasn't faded for me after all this time.

3) Outkast's Aquemini. I was proud of this review at the time: I thought I did a pretty good job of capturing the group's greatness and why they were so important. Looking back, I'm not feeling the review...not because I disagree with the content of it, but the writing didn't come remotely close to articulating the excellence of the album. In all honestly, I just think Aquemini was beyond my ability then...might still be.

  • The hotness = Screwed Up Records and Tapes. Though, as Julianne points out, this is pretty gangsta too.

  • I'm So Sincurr offers 4 reasons why blackface is wack. You need four? I figure just one would be enough.

  • I'm not a huge fan of Kayslay's mix-CD style...but if dude wants to bring the heat to labels for their hypocrisy by using his radio and DJ clout, I'm down to see that go down.
    (credit: We Eat So Many Shrimp)

  • The Simpsons (Jessica, Ashlee) are bad enough but now their father has to get in on the reality action? Jesus christ, stuff like this just makes you cynical about American entertainment.
    (credit: Coolfer)