A collaboration between Talib Kweli and Styles P seems odd on the surface, but translates into a strong musical pairing. Talib Kweli Greene has nurtured a nearly two-decades-long career built on over a dozen solo and group projects. He is arguably best known as a member of the group Black Star, his musical partnership with his fellow Brooklyn native Mos Def, and such tracks as “The Blast” (as Reflection Eternal with DJ/producer Hi-Tek) and "Get By" (from his 2002 solo LP Quality). David Styles “P” first made his name as a third of The Lox, best known for the its part in Bad Boy Records’ mid to late ’90s heyday. He has released eight solo albums amidst a handful of collaborative efforts, and has built up a rep as of late as a spectacular yet underrated lyricist, with long players like The World’s Most Hardest MC Project (2012) and Float (2013).
Kweli and Styles first met in the late ’90s, just as the Black Star project was gaining momentum, and the two remained friends over the years. They first recorded together on Kweli’s The Beautiful Mix CD in 2004, remaking Black Moon’s classic “Buck ’Em Down,” and the two continued to appear on various tracks together. According to Kweli, the two decided to record a project as a duo in the midst of planning a nationwide tour together. The tour is set to start in late April 2017, and if the two mesh as well on stage as they do on record, it won’t disappoint.
Released this past Friday, The Seven EP is a success by any measure. The two emcees are distinctive: Styles uses his gruff demeanor to deliver straight-forward, hard-hitting raps, while Kweli utilizes his high-pitched rasp to weave a stream of similes. However, the contrast in their lyrical styles flows together seamlessly. Subject matter-wise, like many projects being released in the post-Trump election reality, it is a politically conscious undertaking, with both emcees advocating for awareness and action. Musically, the two enlist such beatsmiths as Nottz, Marco Polo, 88-Keys, and Ohno to provide a solid slate of memorable tracks.
The 7-track EP starts off strong with “Poets & Gangstas,” a mellow track produced by Nottz that showcases the pair’s lyrical chemistry, as Kweli raps to his heartbeat, while Styles channels his ancestors when doing his deep breathing. “Brown Guys” tackles racism head on, as Styles expresses his deep disgust at the hate he sees on a regular basis, rapping, “Now if my color make you hate me, then I hope you go blind / And can’t see what your children do / Now that sound kinda harsh / But you would feel like I feel if you had black children too.” For his verse, Kweli describes the “Life of a brown guy / Travel 'round the would with the name of a Muslim man,” excoriating those who justify Islamophobia, explaining succinctly, “Extremism is ugly no matter what or where / People who don't believe in god kill all the time” and “Ain’t no belief system got a monopoly on all the crime.” Ohno, usually known for his often chaotic production style, merges psychedelic guitars, spritely keys, and meandering horns to create a dense and melodic track.
A high-point of the The Seven is “Nine Point Five,” featuring power-packed verses by the duo, as well as the standout performances from Styles’ Lox-cohorts Sheek Louch and Jadakiss. Over heavenly keys and strings provided by Marco Polo, the four lyricists vent their frustration at the state of the world, while advocating that positive change for all is possible. The heavy and propulsive “Teleprompters” is another strong moment, as a motivated Common joins the duo, each contributing dope verses over a dark and drum-heavy beat by frequent Kweli collaborator 88-Keys.
“Let It Burn” is another of the project’s highlights, a showcase for “weaponized lyricists” Styles, Kweli, and North Carolina’s Rapsody. All three shine on a beat created by Khrysis, built around a brooding piano sample. Styles is in fine form, rapping, “Fuck a stripper, I got mother nature making it clap / I could rain dance a rain rhyme, pass me a track / I adapt to the boom-bap, mic and the strap / Give a dap, real rap, I’m ahead of the pack.” But Rapsody probably has the dopest verse on the song, as she proclaims to be “5'3" with a 6'9" stride / Got a leg up on whoever my employer is / Nine, I’m only one away from a dime / We don’t change up, we just a better version this time / I bet we get it right the next time / Millions march and they still building Dakota pipelines / I’m still writing pipe lines, crack, Prince said this a sign of the times.”
During an era of team-ups of emcees from seemingly different stylistic backgrounds, The Seven is a memorable first step. It’s a damn good start for a pairing that has the potential to grow into something great. Hopefully this is not the last collaboration we hear from Kweli and Styles.
Notable Tracks: “Let It Burn” | “Nine Point Five” | “Poets & Gangstas”