Prisoner of Conscious
I reviewed Talib Kweli’s Prisoner of Conscious a day after coming down from a mountain in West Virginia during which I participated in a sweat lodge, climbed and subsequently jumped off of something equivalent to a telephone pole, laid awake at night in fear of a bear eating me, holding a Leatherman tool for safety (only the pliers attachment was really practical to try and both sleep and attack with, and pinching a bear is probably a terrible plan), had no phone or internet for four days and held hands with a lot of people I didn’t really know. It was an apt conclusion to a weekend spent exploring the most basic fears, pains and joys of human consciousness. I also loved it.
The Brooklyn native’s fifth solo studio album, Prisoner of Conscious, is a 17 track masterpiece that straps you in and doesn’t stop from start to finish. Perhaps it’s his personal and very human connection to the subject matter. Kweli expressed to Billboard, “I feel like when people talk about real life emotions and real life feelings they resonate longer, longer than rappers who talk about gangsterism, sex and violence and longer than rappers who just talk about Hip-Hop, how real they are how and how underground they are. I wanted to make an album that really spoke to the lives that people are living.” The proof is in the pudding; Kweli uses these themes to hook into the common threads running deep through all of us.
Kweli doesn’t skimp on this album, starting with “Intro,” a string symphony rich beginning that also gets us in his lyrical frame of mind (“Im at a loss for words…They want to know what the end game is; this is the end game”). “Human Mic” keeps the flow right out of the gate, enchanting us immediately with twists and turns like, “I exhibit characteristics of the average misfit, who graduated from stabbin’ to grabbin’ a biscuit.” It’s so dense lyrically that at times I can’t keep up.
“Turnt Up” has something reminiscent of P.M. Dawn’s “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss.” Things then take a radical turn to “Come Here” featuring Miguel, a sultry number that woos with, “I don’t want to waste your time; I just want to make you come to me…dance with me…talk to me…” And so on, and so forth.
“High Life” shifts yet again, introducing horns and claps atop an unexpected tempo that Kweli plays with to present something both familiar and new. He changes gears on “Ready Set Go” featuring Melanie Fiona, introducing rapid, spacey synth backed by beautiful female vocals.
More inspiration can be found on “Push Thru” featuring Curren$y, Kendrick Lamar and Glen Reynolds (“I fight a good fight, even on the bad days.”). Kweli honors and explores the feminine on “Delicate Flowers.” You’ll laugh at gems such as, “She like Katrina got me lookin’ for FEMA” and the refrain, “Girls have feelings.” They do.
Big vocals crush it on “Before He Walked” featuring both Nelly & Abby Dobson. I had stepped away and actually ran back to and picked up my headphones when this first came on. On “Upper Echelon,” Kweli reincarnates Master Ace’s “Born to Roll,” a timeless classic that also happens to be one of my personal favorites.
“Can’t Barely Breathe [Bonus Track]” sews things up perfectly, ending our trip through this marvel of an LP. The overall impression you get from Prisoner of Conscious is that this is a dude who has so much pouring out of him – lyrically, musically – that he can hardly contain it. It’s almost as if you could take an aural snapshot at any point in time and capture an album’s worth of creativity. I’m sure it wasn’t really like that. I’m sure it tooks hours of toil at home and in the studio to make this happen. It doesn’t feel that way, though, when you listen to it; Talib Kweli makes it seem effortless.