When I introduce people unfamiliar with Talib Kweli to his early albums, Train Of Thought and Quality, they all typically react with the same bewilderment. “Who is this guy?” they demand to know. “Why isn’t he, like, really popular? Isn’t he much better at rapping than every popular rapper?” These are questions that we all must ask ourselves. Do we really want to live in a world where Young Jeezy outsells Talib Kweli?
Kweli’s latest LP, Ear Drum, is set to finally drop on July 24. It will be the first release from his new label, Blacksmith Music, which he named during a recent visit to Colonial Williamsburg. As for the name of the album, Kweli says it derives from “the image of the ear and of the drum, which are powerful enough by themselves, but put them together and it's an instrument in your body that helps you hear.” With symbolism like that in the title, one can only speculate as to what kind of vague metaphors the lyrics will feature!
The album will feature work from a slew of producers, including DJ Hi-Tek, Pete Rock, and Madlib. It will also include tracks produced by Kanye West (let’s just hope Kweli didn’t give him a mic) and will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas (let’s also hope Kweli didn’t give him directions to the studio). In addition, the album will feature guest spots from UGK, Norah Jones, and Jean Grae (no joke here, sorry).
Hopefully, the album will showcase Kweli’s talents, rather than focusing on the collaborators. I mean, if I wanted to hear a song by Kanye West, I’d just buy the latest Common album. In my opinion, Kweli was his strongest when he kept it the simplest (on Train Of Thought and most of Quality). He came close to recapturing this old-school MC-and-DJ feel on Liberation, his 2006 collaboration with Madlib that featured lo-fi beats sampled from soul 45s. But Kweli has warned fans on his MySpace page, “do not use [Liberation] to speculate what Ear Drum will sound like. It is a different project with different influences.”
“They say I’m back, but I ain’t go nowhere though. Been here the whole time. Where you been? You back. Matter of fact, apologize.” So says Kweli between verses on the new track, “Say Something,” sounding a bit like a negligent father accused of accidentally leaving his child at a rest stop on the Garden State Parkway. Maybe the “child” is the future of hip-hop, and Kweli’s insecurities about abandoning his roots are showing through? No? Well, it makes more sense than an instrument you can hear with that’s inside your body, doesn't it?
You can listen to “Say Something” here (streaming):
The single “Listen” is available for purchase from the iTunes Music Store, but you can stream it from Blacksmith’s website, along with a handful of other songs from the label.