Talib Kweli has been a poster boy for alternative hip-hop since 1998, when the Brooklyn-based MC teamed up with high-school buddy Mos Def to release one of the most popular independent hip-hop albums of all time: Black Star.
Since then, despite not seeing much initial commercial success, Kweli's reputation has blown up, being the recipient of frequent critical acclaim.
After releasing two stellar solo albums following Black Star, Kweli released his third, Eardrum, in late August - an effort that is a disappointing blend of his previous repartee and lacks in flare and originality.
In Eardrum's "Hot Thing," Kweli sounds more like the commercialized rappers he is so adamantly against, dispersing uninventive rhymes and a cliché theme: "You keep my dark sky light up at night/So bright that you blinding my sight/Cause all I see is a hot thang/And you my hot thang." This is downright embarrassing for Kweli and, unfortunately, most of the other songs on the album aren't much better.
Not even Kanye West, who teamed up with Kweli on the successful track, "Get 'Em High," is able to do much for the album. "In the Mood," which West appears in, unfolds into a convoluted romance accompanied by a subpar beat.
Finally, the tragically-labeled song, "Listen!!!," which has an awful production job and unoriginal lyrics, inspires the audience to do anything but.
This is not to say that Kweli, who is best known for his hard-hitting and original lyrics, has entirely lost his game. On "Hostile Gospel Pt. 1 (Deliver Us)," the strongest and best-produced song on the album, Kweli imparts on the listener the importance of embracing one's identity and the significance of authenticity, ironically pointing out that "Black kids wishin' they white kids when they close they eyelids/Like 'I bet they neighborhood ain't like this'/White kids wishin' they black kids, and wanna talk like rappers/It's all backwards."
Another diamond in the rough is when Kweli teams up with Norah Jones on "Soon the New Day," which provides an insightful look at our promiscuous society. Norah's soothing voice, which is beautifully synchronized to the beat, momentarily takes the attention away from the generally low quality of the rest of the album.
By playing it safe and not taking any chances, Kweli has produced a predictable, disappointing album. It is unfortunate that the quality tracks are so few and far between, and hopefuls can only wish that he rebounds in the future and that his next album does a better job of leaving eardrums ringing with pleasure.