At nearly forty years old, Brooklyn representative Talib Kweli is one of the few emcees left who see the recording booth as a classroom where he is the professor.
Instilling seeds of intellect, poetry and a call to rise into the soil of every track, as he done since his classic pairing in 1998 with Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star, Kweli deserves his status as one of the living legends, a verbal craftsman who sees music as a pulpit for change.
It is a vow, an attitude he has upheld for his past twelve collective albums and throughout the altering seasons of the past seventeen years.
With the unexpected announcement of his latest full-length, eleven track, thirty-nine minute LP, F*ck The Money (an anti-materialistic attitude, only made more forceful since the full-length effort was released as a free download on August 14th of 2015, that could not have come at a better time in the industry and is especially felt), he has proven forthwith the capacity Rap still has to resonate with a wide-net audience. He has also illuminated its ability to make us think and feel and, most importantly, return again and again to the artist’s work and find something new with each listen.
The thesis statement of the album, that passion is never attached to monetary gain and such financial desires will do nothing but cause you misery and an inevitable downfall in personality and life, is immediately addressed in the brilliant opener, “Gratitude” (produced by Thanks Joey for Colours of the Culture).
The beautifully done tune is appropriately melodic, soulful and the knowledge Kweli instills into his deeply elegiac, multi-layered flow makes said sound all the more impactful, eye-opening and influential.
Kweli wants us to know class is in session from the first moments to the last and “Gratitude” is the perfect way to establish all the wonderful work which comes after it.
“Leslie Nope”, the second track, is a marriage of a Kweli style battle rhyme, which is also apparent in the enjoyable, but less heady, “The Venitian” (featuring solid enough verses from Niko Is and Ab-Soul and impressive production from the legendary Alchemist) from near the album’s end, over an ominous, driving groove that is perfect for his savage wordplay.
Going after those, presumably younger artists, who think that showcasing the appearance of wealth is more important than building a home, and a general foundation for their existence, it gives Kweli’s verbal attacks all the more impact than the usual low-blows of your garden variety ‘diss’ track. In turn, it makes for a fantastic listen.
“He Said, She Said” (produced by Farhot for Hitspot Music) continues this topic in a more detailed way, along with “Fall Back” (sporting exuberant examples of banter from Styles P. and Nire and top-notch production from Amadeus who constructed the sound for four of the album’s tracks) where Kweli comes after such so called ‘emcees’ in his first three words with the phrase: “These silicone rappers”. These additional turns are every bit as captivating in terms of lyrics and production as “Leslie Nope”.
Kweli is at the height of his metaphorical prowess with the album highlight, “Nice Things”.
Opening with a piece from a news broadcast, which brings to mind the immediacy the situation and also any number of Rap songs from the 90’s, the beat is triumphant, massively aggressive as it hammers with smooth bass over the listener’s ears and as Kweli goes into the subjects of police brutality, the youth becoming “colonized” (as he states outright in “Money Good”) and posing the question of how one can fight all this.
The whole tune is a masterful example of Kweli’s prowess on the microphone, his unwillingness to shy away from ‘unpleasant’ subjects, how stalwart his musical presence could be and how substance and poetry never go out of style.
After such an emotionally captivating experience, Kweli goes in the opposite direction and gives us the first of the LP’s duo of love songs with “Echoes” (produced by Farhot).
This is followed up later by the song’s strikingly Timbaland sounding counterpart: “Baby Girl” (produced by Abhi// Dijon). Featuring elegant, classy and poignant background vocals from Miguel and Patrick Stump on “Echoes” and Kendra Ross on “Baby Girl”, both tracks are propelled by an equally sentimental refrain that is genuinely touching, and captures the vulnerabilities of the relationship in question, and, as always, Kweli’s verbose lyrics bring it all together incredibly.
The more, perhaps deliberately, conventional sounding, but still amazing, title track, “F*ck The Money” (featuring inventive lyrics from Cassper Nyovest and more production by Farhot) and the aforementioned concluding tune, “Money Good” appear to be two contradictory sides of the fiscal argument.
“F*ck The Money” is more of an anthem, with the grinding production making the lyrics (especially the deceptively simplistic chorus) easy to chant aloud as we nod our heads but, in the album’s last four minutes Kweli seems to be adopting a semi-sarcastic approach to this demeanor.
Though the sum of the album may be initially catchy, and accessibly enthralling, repeat listens hint at so much more beneath the layers in the smooth, almost laid-back, flow (with Kweli wrecking the microphone on each song respectively as only he can do) and sonic construction of “Money Good”.
In the end, both are excellent examples of two different ways to approach a topic that has become more than exhausted in Hip Hop in remarkably new ways.
Beneath the slow, infectious, imaginative groove of “Butterfly” (produced by Katraynada), featuring rousing singing from Steffanie Christi-an, there is a wonderful message of transformation. Kweli successfully merges a genuine, sensitive approach with an ultimately uplifting message and the result is a dose of mellow consciousness that reminds one of Chicago native and emcee, Common, in his prime.
Kweli has delivered another instant classic with F*ck The Money. Though it was released suddenly this is proof that Hip Hop still has all the life, the impact and the greatness it once had left in it and we just had to wait for another of Rap’s masters to orchestrate to put all the pieces of the puzzle together as cleverly as much of Hip Hop did in its heyday and press it up on wax.
Every song herein is challenging, often enigmatic, and brilliant in the way it conveys a message within endless exhibitions of marvelous lyricism erected by thought and care. With his latest album, Kweli has proven that some of the best things we didn’t know we needed until it pops up without warning, grabs you by the heart and the head and lets you witness its wonders firsthand.
Talib Kweli’s F*ck The Money now rivals Dr. Dre’s Compton: A Soundtrack for the crowning title of album of the year.