Talib Kweli and Mos Def
Reviewed by Robert Gabriel, Fri., Nov. 12, 2004
Talib KweliThe Beautiful Struggle (Rawkus)
Mos DefThe New Danger (Geffen)
Former partners in rhyme, Talib Kweli and Mos Def stand worlds apart from 1998's cohesive Black Star collaboration. With The Beautiful Struggle, Kweli's generic sounds belie the so-called revolutionary front of his lyrics. Kanye West-produced single "I Try," with its busy kicks and piano loop, is "Get By" part three (Dilated Peoples' "This Way" being part two), while "Back Up Offa Me," one of the album's best tracks thanks to the Hi-Tek production, exudes extreme Chingy-osity. The electro-rock fusion of "We Got the Beat" and plastic bounce of "Work It Out" are feeble, and surely hip-hop could do without another Police interpolation by way of John Legend on "Around My Way." On a high note, Anthony Hamilton joins Kweli for "Ghetto Show," a take on Donny Hathaway's classic "The Ghetto," and Faith Evans infuses "We Know" with sensuality in sharp contrast to Kweli's ever-hectic flow. On the title track, the once-inspiring MC even undermines his image as a conscious orator with dismissive words for those who think they can "change the world." Mos Def, meanwhile, casts himself as a renaissance man to the point that The New Danger is as overextended as it is self-indulgent. Former members of Parliament, Bad Brains, and Living Colour back Def, who proves himself an unimaginative rock singer on "Freaky Black Greetings" and "The Easy Spell." Worse, on "Blue Black Jack," the MC falls on his face as a bluesman, kicking tired clichés with reclusive funkman Shuggie Otis. Def rips the electro-bongo cadence of "Close Edge" with proficiency, but why rework Jay-Z's "The Take Over," as incomprehensible a decision as the convoluted message on "The Rape Over." "Modern Marvel," a nine-minute tribute to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, lends scant credence to an album leaning heavily in the misdirection of egomania.