Life is a beautiful struggle/People search through the rubble for a suitable hustle/Some people using the noodle, some people using the muscle/Some people put it all together, make it fit like a puzzle" -Talib Kweli, "I Try"
An old saying is that the pen is mightier than the sword, and nowhere is this more apparent than on Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli's second solo offering, The Beautiful Struggle. An explosive aural stockade of rhymes touching on issues ranging from his own ashy-knuckled New York upbringing to the plight of AIDS-infected orphans in Sierra Leone, hip-hop's premier scholarly MC returns to drop sonic A-bombs on lesser lyricists and restore hope among those struggling to find meaning in the ruins of rap's gallingly vacuous empire of Bling.
"Beautiful Struggle is like another way of saying 'a good fight,' " Kweli explains. "In describing the struggle, you're also talking about where you're trying to get at the end of that struggle, and that's somewhere beautiful. So while the struggle might be hard, what you're fighting for makes it beautiful."
To this end, Talib kicks off his new set with the inspirational, gospel-tinged "I Try," featuring Mary J. Blige. A powerful piano-driven tribute to overtime-working 9-to-5ers searching for more meaning in their weary lives, the Kanye West-produced tune picks up where Talib's 2002 Billboard smash "Get By" left off.
Kweli's ascension to the top has been a long time coming. Gaining notoriety as one-half of the groups Black Star (with childhood friend Mos Def) in 1998 and then Reflection Eternal (with Cincinnati DJ Hi-Tek) in 2000, the cerebral MC, due to his insightful, well-crafted lyrics and passionate delivery, has long been considered one of the most prolific rappers in the game.
The eldest of two sons born to college professors, Talib Kweli (which means "student of truth" in Arabic) realized he had a knack for self-expression as early as elementary school. Gifted in writing poetry, short stories and plays, as Kweli entered junior high, the awkward teen, who had once harbored dreams of becoming a Major League Baseball player, ditched his plans after discovering a market for his written wares among his friends. "I wasn't really one of the cool kids," Kweli recalls. "Hip-hop became a way for me to write and be cool; it gave me a language to speak to my peers. I started writing rhymes for my friends, and then I eventually began writing rhymes for myself."
But schoolyard rap ciphers would give way to professional ambition when Kweli met Dante Smith (aka Mos Def) years later in high school, and then producer Tony "DJ Hi-Tek" Cottrell, during a 1994 trip to Cincinnati. Impressed by Kweli's rhyme style, Hi-Tek, who was working with a local rap clique named Mood at the time, tapped him to appear on several tracks for group's 1997 album, Doom. The same year, Kweli and Hi-Tek, dubbing themselves Reflection Eternal, released "Fortified Live," a now classic single on Rawkus' first Soundbombing compilation.
Flipping the script the following year, Kweli teamed up with Mos Def to record and release Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star. Hailed one of best albums of 1998, the pair went on to spearhead the making of Hip-Hop for Respect less than a year later. The four-song maxi-single featuring 41 MCs--including Kool G. Rap, De La Soul, Common and dead prez, was created to protest the murder of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant shot 41 times by New York City cops in 1999.
After reuniting briefly with Hi-Tek in 2000 to drop the refreshingly original Reflection Eternal - the brainchild of a brilliant MC and masterful musician which yielded Billboard hits "Move Somethin'" and "The Blast", Kweli finally went off on his own to release the highly-anticipated Quality in 2002, much to the delight of many of his long-time supporters. The album, producing such potential hip-hop classics as the feel-good hit "Get By," "Waitin' for the DJ" and "Joy," helped secured Kweli's reputation as one of the most talented MCs of our generation.
"I released Quality to prove I could make an album without Mos or Hi-Tek," says Kweli. "They're highly talented people, but I needed to show my fans what I was capable of . I also needed to show myself."
Although Quality is a tough act to follow, The Beautiful Struggle certainly does not disappoint. Kweli demonstrates just how well he holds his own on tracks like the Neptunes-produced "Broken Glass," a harrowing tale of a young girl whose struggle to make it in the big-city streets ends tragically when she's lured into drugs and prostitution.
Next the rapper teams up with R&B newcomer John Legend for "Around My Way," a somber report on the perils of 'hood life that flows against a musical backdrop of one of Sting's classics with The Police, "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic." Some of his shrewdest work ever, he spits passionately over the chorus "All the corners filled with sorrow/All the streets are filled with pain/Around my way."
On the violin-supported, Just-Blaze track "Never Been in Love," a lovesick Talib puts his pimp game high on up the shelf and opts to do the grown-up commitment thing. Kweli also enlisted the help of his soul label mate RES on "We Got the Beat," a nod to the pioneers of breakdancing.
Having collaborated with many of rap's A-list producers on Struggle as well as guest stars such as Common, Faith Evans, and Anthony Hamilton -Talib is excited to introduce the project he calls one of his most honest works to date. "On this album I let the music dictate what I wrote about ... I stayed true to my own experiences and convictions. I didn't worry about pleasing anybody in particular . I just wrote for myself. It is my hope that this kind of truth and sincerity resonates with my fans."