Talib Kweli’s early work with groups Reflection Eternal and Black Star was essential underground rap, but when the Brooklyn MC ventured onto his own on 2002’s Quality and 2004’s The Beautiful Struggle, he faltered. The tracks were overproduced, his rhymes became muddled with cheesy similes and rushed cadences, and the lyrics progressively moved toward the mawkish and seemingly disingenuous. Yeah, there were still some hot tracks (particularly on Quality), but for his fan base, Kweli was quickly becoming the Tracy Flick of conscious rap—a noisome and nerdy overachiever.
Liberation is the most enjoyable product the MC has released in years. It’s impulsive and appealingly imperfect, and maybe more importantly, Kweli sounds loose and playful. He raps via a bad cell phone connection on “Time Is Right,” exhorts women to “give up that ass” on “The Show,” and actually offers up a polemic that has teeth (“Over the Counter”). He still has his technical flaws, but in this lo-fi setting, the sound meshes. Much of that appeal can be attributed to Madlib, who produced the entire album—the West Coast producer has built a career out of seemingly shitting out unseen masterpieces, and here he doesn’t so much shoot for the sublime pastiche of Madvillainy as fuck with traditional structures. It’s a good look: The rickety funk of “Over the Counter” actually bumps, and “Funny Money” is a sunbaked, Cali-fied version of the chopped soul perfected by Just Blaze.
The album isn’t faultless—it wasn’t designed to be—but for fans of Kweli’s early Rawkus boho rap, it’s a relieving return to form. Oh yeah, it’s also free. Download it at rappcats.com.