Talib Kweli with Live Band Blue Note Jazz Club, New York
The Brooklyn-based rapper earned his stripes as one of the most lyrically-gifted, socially aware and politically insightful rappers to emerge in the last 20 years. His travels around the globe as one of rap’s most in-demand performers combined with his conversations with political activists and his genre-straddling work with Idle Warship and others caused Kweli to realize that he was limited in a sense, a prisoner of sorts of his own success as one of the world’s best rappers with something significant to say.
“My music has been associated with those types of causes, with positivity, spirituality, intelligence and being thought-provoking and such,” he says. “I think sometimes people get caught up in that part of me as an artist and don’t necessarily understand the musicality or fully appreciate the music and the entertainment value behind what I do. I tried to stretch my wings a little bit and bring something that was less beholden to the world of hip-hop and more existing in the world in general.”
The result of this artistic growth and exploration arrives with Kweli’s dynamic Prisoner Of Conscious AKA P.O.C., an artistic tour de force that signals the start of the next chapter of Kweli’s remarkable career. The BK MC spent more time working on Prisoner Of Conscious than any of his other albums, a three-year journey that found him exploring new vibes, joining in some unlikely collaborations and taking him to foreign lands.
Produced by Symbolyc One (Kanye West, Ghostface), the title track’s alternatively rap and rock-based beat provides a distinctive platform for Kweli to deliver rhymes that detail his artistic awakening, while producers Sean C & LV (Jay-Z, Raekwon) created a Marvin Gaye-esque vibe for “Come,” a cut featuring Miguel that showcases Kweli trying to convince a series of women to do things his way.
Then there’s the dramatic, piano-driven “Before He Walked,” which showcases passionate vocals from singer Abby Dobson and includes a verse from possibly the most noteworthy guest on Prisoner Of Conscious: Nelly. Both Kweli and The St. Louis rapper recount the importance music has had in their lives on the stirring song, which was an outgrowth of conversations about music and life Kweli and Nelly had at Kweli’s Los Angeles residence.
“Nelly is somebody I’ve known and have been friendly with throughout the years in this business,” Kweli says. “Nelly has always been an example for me because a rising tide raises all boats. Nelly is an artist who is polarizing at times because of the ‘Tip Drill’ video to the boycotts he’s endured at colleges, but I know him as a person, and he’s a great person.”
Elsewhere, the driving “Ready Set Go” with singer Melanie Fiona features Kweli’s ever-impressive clever verbal gymnastics, which are also on display on the stark Busta Rhymes-guested and RZA-produced “Rocketships.”
Kweli shifts gears on “Favela Love.” Inspired by and created during a trip to Sao Paulo, Brazil, the breezy song features crooning from Brazilian singer and actor Seu George (City Of God, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou). Kweli and George met in the studio, leading Kweli to deviate from his original concept for the song.