[Read our recent interview with Talib Kweli here]
Talib Kweli has become a consummate workhorse over the span of his two-decade career. With well over a dozen projects to his name, he seems intent on continuing to produce music, never content with resting on his laurels, always striving to put out his best material.
Earlier this year, Kweli recorded the incredibly dope The Seven EP with Styles P, ostensibly to support a tour that they were undertaking. And now, half a year later, Kweli is already back with his long-gestating eighth solo album, Radio Silence. With this release, he’s created an album that demonstrates his well of creativity is far from dry, and that he’s always game to take chances with his music and try to cover new musical and lyrical ground.
Radio Silence is the product of two years of recording on Kweli’s part, as it’s apparent that he was working to create an album that sounds unlike anything that already exists in his catalogue, but still retains the flavor of a Kweli album. The production is heavy on live instrumentation and feels much more lush than previous efforts. In some ways, Radio Silence is closest to Kweli’s version of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. It features fewer tracks than usually appear on a Kweli album, but it’s more musically ambitious than many of his previous projects. The strong core musicality sets Radio Silence apart from many hip-hop albums, but still sounds logical and natural.
The album begins with “Magic Hour,” a brief track that features Kweli laying down a one-verse barrage of explosive lyrics and punchlines. The Alchemist creates a majestic-sounding track, built around guitars and soaring vocals. The beat sports the hallmarks of a quintessential Alchemist production, but still sounds unmistakably like the type of track Kweli would rhyme over. It also establishes the tone for the album’s overall soundscape. On the lyrical end, Kweli is in rarified form, proclaiming “I'm in these streets like potholes / Where the guns make Illinois to Chicago” and “I spit it like I just finished gargling the velocity marvelous / Get your goggles we hit it at full throttle.” He then professes to kick that “high Valyrian rap, looking for my Khaleesi / The ones that Ebro call minor leaguers the real fire-breathers.”
“Traveling Light” is another of the album’s stronger moments, as he collaborates with Canadian producer/DJ/electronic music artist Kaytranada, who provides a horn-heavy track. Guest vocalist Anderson .Paak articulates the main thesis of the song with the refrain, which ends “Brooklyn is changing and so am I / See you and the other side, travel light.” Kweli dedicates the first verse to displaying his lyrical supremacy, the second to his efforts to expand his horizons by venturing throughout the world, and the final verse to holding politicians accountable for not serving the best interests of the people that they serve. All three verses are sharp, with him first asserting that “I’m the voice of a generation that’s very silent / I stick to my convictions like I’ve been indicted / All you n****s throwing me shade about to get enlightened.”
Radio Silence makes good use of its guests. Waka Flocka contributes solid verses to the super-amped, sports-themed “Chips,” which sounds like the soundtrack to the most lit pep rally ever. And Rick Ross shares the mic with Kweli on “Heads Up Eyes Open,” the album’s soulful, piano-driven first single, where both relay their experiences seeking out knowledge to improve themselves as people. Past-collaborator and largely elusive emcee Jay Electronica appears on “All of Us,” a track deeply concerned with spirituality and efforts to use religion to elevate rather than express. Jay Electronica is in fine form, dropping a verse he reportedly recorded in an empty hotel conference room, rapping, “The heavens bursted and the rains came / Retaliation of the sons of the fathers who worked the chain gangs / I hit that schmoney dance on the coffin of a crooked cop / In a World Star society where all we do is look and watch.”
Kweli enlists the lyrical talents of Myka 9, a member of the legendary Freestyle Fellowship crew and pioneer of the Southern California underground scene, on the album’s title track. Musically, it’s perhaps the most interesting song on the album, and is produced by instrumentalist producers Mr. Carmack and Abjo. It begins with orchestral strings, building in volume and power, and then switches to layered Kraftwerk-like synths and percussion. On the mic, Kweli and Myka are quite introspective, rhyming about learning to find themselves and seeking meaning within their existence.
Radio Silence features quite a bit of beautiful and arresting lyrical imagery and sentiments. The melancholy “Knockturnal” explores the nighttime reality of a sprawling urban metropolis, populated by the metaphorically undead that drain its life through their physical and emotional violence. The Lord Quest-produced “Let It Roll” showcases Kweli’s lighter side, as he describes rolling down the streets of Brooklyn in an old school ride and seeking out ways to enjoy life.
The album ends with the stripped down “Write At Home,” produced by acclaimed jazz artist Robert Glasper and featuring vocals by Bilal. Over a simple piano groove, strings, and handclaps, Datcha begins the song with a lengthy spoken word piece, exploring how human beings perceive and experience reality through their senses. Kweli follows up with a brief verse about continuing to express himself creatively no matter what adversity he faces, as he raps, “Release the blockages, I ain’t stopping until they’re gone / Feeling weighted down like my pockets are full of stones / ’Til I realize I can change what’s going on / Every single place I go, I’m write at home.”
Radio Silence demonstrates that after over 20 years recording music, Kweli still has a lot of gas in his tank, and that he’s still willing to strive to create something truly unique. He continues to demonstrate that hip-hop artists can try something different well into their careers and still remain true to themselves.
Notable Tracks: “Knockturnal” | “The Magic Hour” | “Radio Silence” | “Traveling Light”