"I'ma give it to you before the bootleggers get 'hold of it. Y'knahmsayin? I figure I put it out first, make some money with it, why not right? Okay!"
With these words Talib Kweli opens the title track to his new album "Right About Now." Album? Nah, not in Talib's mind. He subtitled this release "The Official Sucka Free Mix CD." Even though the tracks on this joint are all individuated and there's no annoying DJ making gunshot sounds or yelling out his crew's name 100 times, Kweli seems determined to press the issue that this is not a regular album. It couldn't BE more regular though. You don't get a label like Koch Records to press up and nationally distribute an album full of bootleg songs with uncleared samples. The RIAA Gestapo will not be breaking down the door of your favorite mom & pop record store to confiscate every last copy and lead the sales clerks out in handcuffs. In the end Kweli can call it whatever he wants as long as he gives us exactly what we all want - new shit. Kweli's motive in the opening track seems less about bootlegger desperation and more about music industry frustration. Is he going to wait to tell us who he's pissed off at and why? HELL NO.
"Rawkus got a deal with MCA, this the gray area
The letters stood for Music Cemetery of America!
They tried to fool you by switchin the name to Geffen
Now they Interscope's bitch and every artist who had a chance left 'em
Ain't no big surprise wasn't no love there
Jimmy Iovine never signed me I just - kinda ended up there
Fuck that! Literally it was my way or the highway
Hit the road with the Beastie Boys, I toured Europe with Kanye"
It's never a bad thing for Kweli to be pissed off. Already a lyrical weapon to begin with, indignation only seems to add more ammunition to his arsenal. Next to the anger towards the business though is sorrow for the ones that have been swept away by it and now seem lost to time. That's the point of his heartfelt and emotional track "Ms. Hill," and if you hadn't guessed from the title he makes it abundantly clear from jump off who he's referring to:
"I wish I could talk to Lauryn; I mean excuse me, Ms. Hill
And let her know how much we love her - it's real
The industry was beatin her up, then them demons started eatin her up
she need a savior that'll bleed in a cup, yup
We used to kick it in the salad days
When she look at me like she don't know me when she see me nowadays
I nod, she nod back, that's how it stay
Her songs still better than anything out that Hot or Power play
Remember how they accused her of sayin she did her album without help
Then she went to Rome to sing and tell the Pope about herself
Just after she left the Fugees, started rollin with the Marleys
Got back with her crew at Dave Chapelle's Block Party
She made songs about Zion and tryin to be faithful
Took BlackStar on tour to Europe, I'm so grateful
Speakin for myself but I'm sure I could speak for Dante
I got to watch a show with Nina Simone and Harry Belafonte
we used to chill at Nkiru, her moms was a customer
She used to love to buy the books by Octavia Butler
_Parable of the Sower_, the main character's name was Lauren
What the album did for black girls' souls was so important
I got concerned when she got sick on the road
She ain't heavy, I'm a brother, and I wish that I could pick up the load"
Everybody should personally thank Kweli for this song when they see him, because it's such a strong reminder of how vital she was back in the day and how she COULD be a force today. Some people probably miss her fly singing the most, this reviewer however is sad that with so few good female MC's today other than Bahamadia and Jean Grae that Lauryn isn't rapping to show the sisters how it SHOULD be done. Kweli doesn't dwell in the past, but he's not afraid to resurrect a little of it either by reuniting with his former BlackStar partner Mos Def on "Supreme Supreme." Dante is solid as always but lyrically Talib tends to steal the show the way Pharoahe Monch did standing next to Prince Po, and this track is no exception:
"'Bout to slap box with the beat
The shit I spit is a snapshot of the street
You can see the crack spot in the backdrop
The heat in the stash box of the black drop
You wonder why there's mo' crime
Free food, or a check the only time niggaz on-line
Gettin information from the nigga-net
Trickle-down theory guess it ain't reached niggaz yet
I make a bigger bet, Kweli 'bout to be a bigger threat
Cause there's hardly any real niggaz left
Ha, what the fuck these niggaz talking 'bout
Livin a movie but the audience is walkin out
I fight the temptation, to rip the heart from your chest
'Til there's only _Five Heartbeats_ left
It's like a dead man walkin
I turn on the radio and I hear dead men talkin"
Kweli never wastes a word or a breath when rapping, and it's refreshing to know there are still rappers so animated and passionate that they spit every word like it could be their last. MC's like that live or die by their production; thankfully on "Right About Now" Kweli has a lot to live for. The fat electronic funk of "Flash Gordon" is ably laced by (Supa) Dave West. "Fly That Knot" is red hot thanks to the aptly named Fyre Department and a cameo rap by MF Doom. Jay Dilla's still hella underrated and proves it with the sublimely understated orchestration of "Roll Off Me." And if you want dopeness goosebumps all over your skin, pay close attention to the J. Cardim laced "Where You Gonna Run" featuring the aforementioned Jean Grae. Kweli says in the liner notes that this song almost didn't make the cut because it sounded too much like a Little Brother track but in the end "they shit is hot, our shit is hot, so fuck it here it is." Damn straight. As dope as Kweli is when he's being serious or getting a point across, it's easy at times to forget he's also one of the hottest punchline MC's in rap, not to mention hella fuckin' funny:
"Y'all don't really want no beef, that's too real and you want veal
You baby sheep - hangin in the air to tenderize the meat!
Me? I don't like the taste, the shit's gamey
Like magazines tellin lies to start wars like Dick Cheney
They suck, so they losin they flavor like Now & Laters
When I bust, them niggaz run for the hills like Al'Qaeda"
SAY WORD. "Right About Now?" That title is just too fuckin' appropriate. It's never too late for a Talib Kweli album, even if it is ostensibly a "Sucka Free Mix CD." Making the mistake of thinking this is only a mixtape and passing up on what Kweli has to offer here will come back to haunt you later on. This may be the best shit he's done since "Quality."
Music Vibes: 8.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 9.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 9 of 10
Originally posted: December 13, 2005