Published on May 10th, 2013 | by Boman12l0
Prisoner of Consicous – Talib Kweli [Review]
It is impossible to discuss Talib Kweli’s fifth solo album, tenth overall release, Prisoner of Conscious, without acknowledging how provocative the title is. Does it refer to Kweli or something else? For a large part of the album’s inception and development, much of the discussion was focused on Kweli’s perceptions as an artist, but also during that same three year time frame, saw the rise of the Arab Spring and Occupy Movements, which equally fueled Kweli’s talking points. Prisoner of Conscious could mean many things to different people. Kweli knows he is onto a hot topic and ask listeners “what prisoner of conscious means to them” in the album’s lyric look. A heavy concept for sure, but surprisingly one Kweli seldom explores on this project.
Fans need not worry, Prisoner of Conscious is not the radical departure that some feared. Talib Kweli is still the lyrically focused MC he has always been, packing bars full of cultural references and alliteration. Still, in a way, Prisoner of Conscious is a strange album. The album opens to the familiar setting of Kweli among the people, feeding off their energy and encouraging them to grow the Movement (Occupy Wall Street to be specific). It is bold and striking imagery and the opening track “Human Mic” is just as powerful; however, that is far from the focus of the album. It is if Kweli is asking fans this question, but never really having any intentions to answer it.
Sonically Talib Kweli has never released an album like this before. The instrumentality throughout Prisoner of Conscious is filled with live horns, strings, and drums that make the album a joy to listen too. The arrangements beautifully complement Kweli. The electric pops of “Ready Set Go” featuring Melanie Fiona are familiar, yet there are subtle changes to the production that accompany each verse. “Turnt Up” builds on the break from Eric B and Rakim’s “Paid in Full,” but also features some smooth background vocals on top of a heavy baseline. Produced by Oh No, to describe the opening “Human Mic” as anything less than breathtaking would be an understatement. Oh No provides four of the album’s fifteen tracks and all of his contributions on Prisoner are top notch.
The album flows loosely, mainly because there is no centrally connected theme. One could argue that is Kweli point here, not to be held down by one concept or style, but it does make for a somewhat disjointing experience. None of these songs are bad on a whole, most are quite enjoyable, if not missed placed. Miguel’s Hook on “Come Here” is possibly one of his most seductive yet. Busta Rhymes adds some humor over RZA’s explosive drums on “Rocketships.” While Curren$y and Kendrick Lamar make for a surprising yet effective paring next to Kweli on “Push Thru.” Only there is not a lot connecting these songs together and some of the sequencing is odd, but the diversity and overall quality of the production is one of the album’s best features.
The album still features plenty of Talib Kweli lyrical acrobatics going on. There are times when Kweli will drop gems like:
alliteration is literally littered
Through my DNA swimming on through my semen
So every time I bust, babies begin being born
Talk turns tough to them toast, the staff tucked in
Draw it like a picture, picture a perfect painting
Police profiling people peacefully praying
Other times listeners will be pulled away by hokey metaphors “I got a buzz like I’m Georgia Tech” or weak hooks like “She need to get up off that Hamster Wheel” on “Hamster Wheel.” Yes, it come the Barbara Mason sample, but the “Girls have feelings” hook on “Delicate Flowers” is borderline cheesy. The album’s overall concepts are rather light. Plenty of songs on loves and Kweli’s skill being in the upper echelon, some longtime fans will be disappointed in the rather generalness of the album. There are flashes, movements that tease the listener at something greater scattered throughout, but they are few and far in-between.
Compared to his last two major albums, it does not have the robustness of Ear Drum or the focus of Revolutions Per Minute; still, Prisoner of Conscious succeeds more than it disappoints. The varied production is a highlight and Kweli can spit the heat when he wants to. Kweli poses a great question and maybe through the compositions and production he gives us a little insight, but there is plenty left unexplored.