The Beautiful Struggle
Brooklyn is home to some of the biggest names in the rap game, like Killah Priest, Busta Rhymes and Jay-Z. In addition to the big names, there are many lesser-known emcees in Brooklyn’s underground. Veteran emcee Talib Kweli comes out of the shadows and moves toward the limelight with his latest full-length album, The Beautiful Struggle.
On The Beautiful Struggle, Kweli ditches the underground-flavored beats in favor of radio-friendly/dance party jams. The new album has a different feel than his older albums, but Kweli still masters the microphone as a politically conscious emcee with great lyrical prowess.
This time around, Kweli collaborates with bigger names on the album’s tracks. “I Try” is one of three songs on the album produced by experienced Kweli producer Kanye West. The song also features vocals from Mary J. Blige. Her sweet and sultry voice floats over the drum machine/piano duet and in between Kweli’s rhymes. “I Try” is the first single off The Beautiful Struggle and has definite potential for airtime on Power 99. The smooth guitar and chill beats on “We Know” are also produced by West and decorated with vocals by R&B songstress Faith Evans.
Unfortunately for Talib Kweli, some of his potential hits are complete misses. The collaboration with Hi-Tek on “Back Up Offa Me” is particularly disappointing. The beats are stale in comparison to Tek and Kweli’s earlier efforts on Reflection Eternal (2000) and the lyrics include quips like “I’m surrounded by more babies than an Ashanti song.” Kweli’s lines are funny, but out of character.
The bottom line is Kweli knows how to get it together. Even though The Beautiful Struggle has a few misses, the hits are dead on and definitely give Kweli great potential for stardom.
Worth tha Weight
Trina, Lil Kim, Foxy Brown and now Shawnna have one thing in common. They’re the only female rappers in male dominated groups. However, that is the only thing that Disturbing Tha Peace member Shawnna shares with those established emcees. Her latest effort, Worth tha Weight wastes too much time boasting high-profile production with minimal memorable lyrics at best. Despite having Noreaga, Missy Elliot, Beanie Man and Ludacris on Worth tha Weight, she doesn’t excel like fellow Chicago emcees, Twista and Kanye West, have benefited in 2004.
The quick-spitting emcee doesn’t blend well with the slow and smooth-flowing chorus and rhythm on “So Real So Right.” On “Turn It Up,” Shawnna’s fast flows drag throughout the track that it could lose someone. The Jermaine Dupri produced “U Crazy” doesn’t transcend well with its heavy guitar and blues style beats. The chorus and lyrics don’t separate itself from the majority of this record while going off the topic: “Be easy, Shawnna stay breezy/ pocket full feezy/ got the game greezy/ My flow’s just sick in that H2 Hummer n–a know that bitch.”
“R.P.M.” starts off heavy like a V 16 engine in a drag race. DTP member Ludacris and Twista’s fast-paced lyrics compliment Shawnna’s style to give that Chi-town heavy drum beat something worth listening to. The catchy, “Let’s Go” gives off a house party feeling similar to Joe Budden’s “Pump It Up.”
She adds to Hip hop/ Dancehall’s growing popularity by adding the hit “Dude (The Remix)” featuring Beanie Man and Jamaican-influenced “Block Reincarnated” mixing traditional steal drum sounds and bass-heavy beats with lyrics from popular dancehall artist, Kardinal Offishall.
The Missy Elliot produced “What Can I Do” adds to the question, “what can Shawnna really do on this album?” The track’s xylophone beats and Missy’s non-catchy chorus blends about as well as J. Lo and Ben Affleck did. Taking a cue from Eminem and GZA, she puts her daughter Cami on the spotlight in “Cami’s Solo.”
With a few cuts worthy of listening to. Shawnna doesn’t separate herself from many artists who are overshadowed by their A-list counterpart members like Ludacris. Her DTP debut isn’t truly worth tha weight.
– Alan Gung
To fully transmit an understanding of Smile would require delving into an intense, involved legacy; it’s interesting but this is not the appropriate platform. What’s immediately important is that when this album was first conceived in 1966, it faced incredibly high expectations it would have easily exceeded. Sadly, a lot of proverbial stuff went down resulting in Smile’s abandonment achingly close to completion.
At Smile’s inception, legendary Beach Boys songwriter Brian Wilson and lyricist Van dyke Parks sought to push rock music’s possibilities into the realm of transcendence, not only with an unheard of compositional craftsmanship but also in its broad lyrical scope: explorations of Americana, staying healthy and active, a treatment of the four elements, all culminating under the epic umbrella goal of a “teenage symphony to God.”
“Our Prayer” opens the album with an exultant choir-like arrangement of oohs and mmms; a fitting introduction to the pure joy Smile prostrates for the listener over the ensuing 16 tracks. The final tune, “Good Vibrations” restores Parks’ original lyrics, which had been rewritten for mass consumption, and remains as enthralling as ever. Parks has always been a severely underrated songwriter, and on Smile, his literary playfulness and abstractions shine on “Cabinessence” and “Surf’s Up.’
Wilson’s utilization of the recording studio in creating songs is what distinguished his material in the 1960s and keeps the new recordings vibrant today. Instead of preparing complete compositions, he brought periods and fragments to the studio that were then produced separately and accordingly arranged. The result is songs with unorthodox structures, where each section unfurls out of its predecessor in a way that is gushingly magical, and lends itself to the album’s division into 3 portions like movements in a symphony.
Listening to Smile with the knowledge of its context, one gets the impression that completion of this work has been a spiritual compulsion for Wilson. This is music that joyfully transcends trendy critical cynicism and exists for the humble, noble goal of affirming for each listener universal love, and confronted by that, what recourse is there but to smile?