Talib Kweli

The Beautiful Struggle

(Rawkus; 2004)

By Peter Hepburn | 30 December 2007

"C’est la vie"? What rapper seriously drops "C’est la vie" in a rap song? I’m increasingly skeptical about Talib Kweli’s seriousness, and on the quasi-rap/rock "We Got the Beat," he goes and says that. Something about this "conscious" rapper waxing Francais on a song that celebrates Missy Elliott, rides the absolute silliest '70s rock riff this side of Ted Leo, and plays on a terrible epic rap “thing” ("Terrorists set bombs at the concert / The show must go on, yo, regardless / We just some hip hop kids with pop shit / Get on some rock shit and start a mosh pit"). He sounds like an idiot. I mean, Kweli’s always had his flaws, but he used to have a few good lines and, at least, tight production to hide behind. But here, not so much.

I suppose it's not so much that the production is terrible throughout as the fact that it just doesn't sound like a Kweli record. By this point everyone and their mother knows who Kweli is. He tried pretty hard to sellout on Quality, but this is a whole new level. Yeah, Hi Tek is back here on three tracks, but the rest: Kanye West, The Neptunes, Just Blaze? I was starting to wonder where Puffy was. And one of the Hi Tek beats, the frenetic, annoying "Work it Out," just makes me hurt inside. Kweli manages to keep up, but it feels like I should be playing a video game along to the music.

Kweli often brings enough good lines to maintain half a track, but then he’ll go and say something cringeworthy. "Ghetto Show" isn't that bad until Kweli drops the, "if lyrics sold then truth be told / I'd probably be rich and famous as Jay-Z / Truthfully I wanna rhyme like Common Sense / Next best thing I do a record with common sense." Probably the worst is "I Try," where he declares: "Some people using their noodle / Some people using their muscle." I don't know if he is making life into an analogy about swimming, or if he is referring to brains as "noodle?" Either way he sounds like a moron.

All the same, there are a few tracks I don't mind that much. "Black Girl Pain" contains a saving social message, and the title track doesn't hurt too much. All the same, however, there’s a song that samples the Police. Maybe that’s where Puffy is.

Mos Def actually provided the title for Kweli's album. He uses it, at least in spirit, as a jump-off point for championing the ghetto, but clearly in the process is selling out to the very forces that Def is lambasting (or at least attempting to) on his album. I wonder what the communication between the two was like while they were both working on their respective projects.

I almost felt like the finger gun-to-the-head on the The New Danger’s cover was conveying an understanding of the career suicide his album could represent. On The Beautiful Struggle, Kweli isn’t taking any risks whatsoever, and that may be even more dangerous. The songs here are indistinguishable from anything on Quality, and the album, despite the few references to the idea of the title, doesn’t provide much of a cohesive message. Sad that we have to talk about a member of Black Star making an album without a guiding ideal, dull production, and bad lyrics. But then again, I suppose, “c’est la vie.”