Silver Chips Online

Talib Kweli is hot "Right About Now"

Culturally conscious rapper brings lyrical heat on latest album

By Josh Zipin, Online Managing Sports Editor
December 6, 2005
There aren't many rappers who seem down to earth. Talib Kweli could be the exception to this generalization.

Then again, Kweli isn't the typical rapper. Jewels worth millions don't hang from his neck and he doesn't constantly brag about his cars or his women. No, Kweli is a culturally conscious rapper. Instead of parading his opinions on a single track, he likes to jump from topic to topic, subtly incorporating his bold opinions as a few lines in his songs. His rap subjects range from his rap skills to his respect for Lauryn Hill. His most recent release, "Right About Now: The Official Sucka Free CD," features thought-provoking lyrics and tracks that get back to the roots of hip-hop.

Kweli's style is a little unorthodox for a mainstream rapper. His flow is accelerated and energized, more the style of an underground freestyle rapper (which he once was) rather than that of a mainstream rapper on the Billboard charts.

In contrast to most rappers, who use the beat almost as a voice itself by varying their cadence to it, Kweli attacks the lyrics and doesn't wait for the accompaniment. The beat is more of a complement to Kweli's voice than an attraction that entices the listener, but there is no shortage of hot beats on "The Sucka Free CD."

Kweli's first track, titled "Right About Now," has a beat that starts with Spanish maracas and then turns into a faint rock and roll beat during the chorus. This track is also blessed with the unique voice of comic Dave Chapelle saying: "You're now rockin' with the best."

"Fly That Knot" has a brass sound that punctuates the hook of the song: "I don't know why people try to be live when they not, I gotta blow up they spot so I'm fly." There is even a bit of scratching at the end of the song, adding some club flare to the beat.

These improvements are significant strides for a rapper who used to rhyme on monotonous and mediocre beats. The rhymes themselves remain the reason for his greatness. Kweli describes his flow in 'Right Now': "Diamond cut lyrics so sharp, the spit split the glass." Kweli's most memorable verse comes when he's referring to the war in Iraq: "They'll be lookin' through the rubble lookin' for Hussein; I'm looking through the rubble looking for who's sane," raps Kweli in "Roll Off Me." He has mastered the double entendre and is one of the best rappers at playing with words and sounds.

"Drugs, Basketball and Rap" is an engaging track in which Kweli vents about stereotypes associated with black males. He states, "There's more to us than that," and raps that, while blacks do commonly get out of poverty through basketball and rap, they also follow other paths to success. The track also features the lesser-known but enormously talented raps of Planet Asia and Phil the Agony.

The album's best songs are easily the tribute song called "Ms. Hill" and the collaboration song "Supreme, Supreme," which features his former musical partner, Mos Def. "Ms. Hill" has a soft, catchy sample that is unusual for Kweli, and venturing out of his comfort zone makes this song that much better. He flows in the chorus about his respect for Lauryn Hill as an artist and spiritual woman: "Ms. Hill got skills that's a gift it's real get ill, what you spit got the power to uplift a hill."

Formerly called Blackstar when they rapped together as a group, Kweli and Mos Def each have talent and are explosive on the same track. Their flows are similar but still complement each other. "Supreme, Supreme" gives a little taste of what could have been if Blackstar had stayed together.

While this album is of high quality, the quantity is disappointing. The album has only 12 songs, a disappointing number for a rapper who has a very loyal following. Maybe he's holding onto a few songs for now so he can stay "underground." One thing is for sure though: Kweli's underground style and flow have become mainstream -- and for good reason.