Published on January 2nd, 2014 | by Boman12l1
Talib Kweli – Gravitas [Review]
It doesn’t seem right to call Talib Kweli’s latest album, Gravitas, a course correction, as Kweli never radically changed his artistic direction. Gravitas, his second release of 2013 has been billed as a return to form after many felt Kweli’s last effort, Prisoner of Conscious, isolated some with its different approach to production and more mainstream guest list. Other than that – which is not outside the norm for Kweli – everything remained the same. POC was an Kweli album filled with sharp lyricism, songs about love, songs about being a dope MC and songs about women empowering themselves. Gravitas is also an Kweli album filled with sharp lyricism, songs about love, songs about being a dope MC and songs about women empowering themselves. So what’s the difference?
From announcement to release, the turnaround time for Gravitas has been very short. POC had a long build and numerous delays. It gave Kweli plenty of opportunity to talk up the project. Much of the discussion centered on the album’s title, how it related to people’s perception of Kweli and how he wanted to expand out musically. This of course scared older fans and possibly affected their view of POC before it was out. Since its reveal, Gravitas has been billed as an album for fans. The first releases from the project featured heavy lyricism and Kweli’s patented astute commentary that called for more social leaders and unmasked boogiemen. The Kweli that never left was “back” and in a radical move his new album would forgo traditional retail outlets and even major digital sellers. Instead, Kweli will sell the album directly to fans on his Kweliclub website. Besides getting new music, everyone who buys the album will have a direct means of contact to Kweli. If some of this sounds familiar it’s because this would not be the first time Kweli went the all-digital route. Perhaps even more surprising is how much this album shares with his older releases.
Gravitas feels like a long running franchise coming back from an off year. A conservative effort hitting all the right notes and beats so longtime fans will be pleased; however, it never truly creates an identity for itself, partly because it’s reliant on too many past references. More than having similar methods of distribution, songs from Gravitas are surprisingly similar in content and form to Gutter Rainbows. “Violations” could be described as a new “Palookas”, Raekwon switched out for Sean Price, both songs featuring two NYC emcees describing how dope they are and how others do not compare. “Friends & Family” becomes “Rare Portraits”, each a reflection of Kweli’s storied career. The chronology of events and people mentioned in each song could be used to cross reference one another. Now tales of being on tour with The Roots are stories of opening for Jay and Nas. “Art Imitates Life”, a song that was released earlier in the year as a double single alongside track “One Two”, has found its way on Gravitas. Even the tracks “New Leaders” and “Demonology” feature reincorporated lines from and are partially inspired by previous tracks. Are they word for word copies? No. Are they bad songs? No. It’s a reboot when none was necessary. A solid effort but does little to expand or separate itself from the original.
It’s not all rehash, there are plenty excellent cuts on the album. “Demonology” features one mean guitar riff from Gary Clark JR and explosive verse from recent tour mate Big K.R.I.T. “State of Grace” is as much a message to female listeners as it is for Kweli’s peers, asking them to really think about the isolation they create when constantly disrespecting half their audience. “The Wormhole” takes Illuminati truthers to task and essentially compares them to believing in a boogieman. The smooth electric kicks of “What’s Real” feature the return of longtime collaborator RES, who has not appeared on a Kweli solo project since 2010’s Gutter Rainbows. “Colors of you” is straight up Dilla from the Soulquarians era of the early 2000’s and a great way to end the album.
Production is handled by many familiar faces, Statik Selektha, Rich Kidd and Khrysis all provide contributions. Once again, Oh No delivers three cuts. They are in line with what he did on POC. Samples feature heavy strings that normally build to crescendo, filling out songs with more lush sounds and a livelier instrumentally. Lord Quest shows a wide range with “Demonology” being a high octane piece built from an Adrian Younge sample while “State of Grace” is a more somber, jazzier cut were the bass line occasionally drops and builds to a sweeping ensemble.
Gravitas is an album that hits all the right moments that send audiences home happy. Older fans will connect the deeper references while newer listeners will not feel that they are missing anything. Lyrics are still insightful, filled with alliteration and are beautifully written; if only with fewer pop culture references this time. Ideas may be revisited and perhaps an EP of the superior cuts would have been better overall, it’s hard to be disappointed by this collection of work. Talib Kweli made an album for his base and it will resonate with them. More than that, Gravitas is an album with quality music. Even if you do not count yourself among those feeling isolated by Prisoner of Conscious, Gravitas is worth the cost of admission.
Talib Kweli – “The Wormhole”