1) Inner Monologue - The album begins with a short skit before a dope Khrysis instrumental with what sounds like distorted choir vocals, pianos and keyboards comes in. The beat is pretty ill and Talib rips it, kicking some rhymes about hip-hop nowadays and about how rappers are treated like a product instead of as people by record labels. The song closes out with some nice female vocals from an uncredited artist as the skit from the beginning of the song continues on. Not a bad way to kick off the album.
2) Demonology (featuring Big K.R.I.T. and Gary Clark Jr.) - Now this is dope. The beat on this song, provided by Lord Quest, is brimming with a ton of energy that should get your head nodding right out the gate. The instrumental is full of electric guitars, lush backing vocals and hard hitting drums that give it a strong stadium feel. Lyrically both Talib Kweli and guest Big K.R.I.T. just body the beat, kicking rhymes full of religious and demonic imagery and metaphors while Gary Clark Jr. kills it with the guitar as the song fades out. This shit is fire.
3) State of Grace (featuring Abby Dobson) - Lord Quest returns with another really dope instrumental, this time with some ambient keyboards and a textured backing sample that sounds even better than the last song. The beat is banging and Talib bodies it, spitting a story about a woman who loved hip-hop until she experienced its misogynistic nature first hand. The message is dope and is complimented nicely by the beautiful beat and soulful singing by Abby Dobson. Another fire track.
4) Violations (featuring Raekwon) - Thaddeus Dixon delivers what is one of my favorite instrumentals on the album so far, featuring low-key keyboards and strings interspersed throughout the stomping stadium drums that change shape and morph over the course of the song. Lyrically both Talib and Wu-Tang Clans Raekwon rip it, as expected. Raekwon especially really surprised me on here and comes with an energy that has been lacking from his features lately. This shit is absolute fire.
5) Rare Portraits - This song features another beautiful instrumental, this time by Oh No (of Gangrene), with some rising pianos and soaring strings that give the beat a light-hearted feel. Talib Kweli comes through and kicks some rhymes reminiscing about his come-up during hip-hop's "Golden Era" and about all of the classics he has been a part of throughout his career. So far all of the beats on here have been fire and Talib has been murdering them, showcasing a reinvigorated flow and some witty and vivid lyrics. Another banger.
6) New Leaders (featuring The Underachievers) - Talib teams up with Flatbush duo The Underarchivers as all three emcees spit some ill rhymes about looking for new leaders in hip-hop and in life in general. The beat, by Statik Selektah, has a triumphant feel to it with stomping stadium drums over an energetic backing vocal loop. I've never really heard a Statik Selektah beat quite like this one and I must admit its fire. Talib is really coming hard with the rhymes and seems to be bringing out the best in his guests and features as well. Very nice.
7) The Wormhole - Oh No returns with what is probably the least interesting instrumental so far, featuring some distorted guitars and keyboards over militant sounding drums. The beat is still quite good, however, and Talib comes correct over it, rapping about conspiracy theories (especially those surrounding hip-hop and the illuminati). The concept and lyrics are ill, but the beat isn't grabbing me quite as much as the others have. Still, not bad.
8) What’s Real (featuring RES) - The instrumental on this song, courtesy of Rich Kidd, has a darker vibe than mostly every beat on the album so far. Talib comes through and kicks some socially conscious lines about what can be considered real in the materialistic world of hip-hop as well as life in general while RES provides some soft vocals during the chorus. This isn't bad, but its not really a standout track for me.
9) Art Imitates Life (featuring Black Thought, Rah Digga and Al Be Back) - Oh No redeems himself after the somewhat lackluster beat on "The Wormhole" and delivers an ill instrumental with swirling violins and head-nodding drums. Lyrically the song is fire, as should be expected, with Talib sharing the mic with Rah Digga and one of the most slept on emcees out there, Black Thought. Thought is and always has been a beast on the mic, but I rarely hear him mentioned in peoples top emcee list which is a shame. Regardless, this shit is dope.
10) Lover’s Peak - Talib Kweli kicks some witty and heartfelt rhymes about love over a mellow 6th Sense instrumental made up of soft acoustic guitars and a soulful vocal sample. The beat is beautiful and goes along nicely with the honest feel of the rhymes. Too bad this is so short, clocking in at just over two minutes with only one verse, because I'm really feelin' this track.
11) Colors of You (featuring Mike Posner) - In almost an extension of the previous song, Talib comes through with some vivid lyrics about the colors of the world and of relationships over a mellow J Dilla instrumental. The beat has a real soulful boom-bap feel to it that is similar to many of the late J Dilla's classic works and Talib rips it. Mike Posner only shows up for some subtle singing on the chorus, but its effective and fits in nicely with the feel of the track. Very dope.
I'm going to rate the album
4.5 / 5
because it's really dope the whole way through. This is Talib Kweli's second album of 2013, following up "Prisoner of Conscious", which dropped back in May. While that album had some fire on it, it also felt a bit disjointed to me in places, with Talib trying to break free of being pigeonholed as a conscious rapper over a variety of instrumentals. This album, however, has a more consistent theme to most of the songs, with many having a lively feel and only delving into more mellow and somewhat darker vibes towards the end. Lyrically Talib is on point for every track, spitting poignant rhymes that actually have meaning while flowing his ass off. All of the guests really step up as well, hoping to not be out-shined by Talib's lyrical prowess. If you are a fan of any of Kweli's previous works, you definitely need to check out this album. Pick it up digitally over on his website ASAP.