Radio Silence (released November 17, 2017)
You’ve gotta love the subtle message Talib Kweli delivers in entitling his eight studio album Radio Silence.
If the only hip-hop you consume is the stuff that’s force-fed you through the airways, you’d assume Talib has been on a 15-year hiatus. Real heads know better – in 2017 alone he’s contributed to compilations as well as teaming with Styles P for one of the best EPs of the year. And now he rounds out 2017 with his own solo LP.
Silence? Not by a long shot. There is too much on his mind.
Talib has always been a hip-hop griot, using his music to both inform and inspire. Radio Silence is no different.
I’m a guy who stays up on current events but it wasn’t until Talib dropped “She’s My Hero” this past summer that I learned about the case of Bresha Meadows, a teenager who fatally shot her allegedly abusive father. She was originally sentenced for murder before public outcry led way to a plea deal. Instead of painting Bresha as a violent teen, “She’s My Hero” analyzes the circumstances that pushed her over the line.
So what was she to do?
She did what she was told to do
Exposure to violence increased the amount of violence that you open to
Why bother when the system support her father
Gradually her thoughts got darker
Do you kill yourself or kill the monster that’s making you suicidal?
Decisions too heavy for the mind of a child
It’s storytelling at its finest.
Radio Silence‘s themes aren’t always as heavy as “She’s My Hero,” but they’re just as important. Credit the top-notch production for keeping the album from getting to dour and preachy. Alchemist puts the magic in the opening track “The Magic Hour” with lively, triumphant soundscapes. Anderson Paak, who is quickly becoming hip-hop’s premier hook man, joins the mighty trumpets and knocking percussion of “Traveling Light,” but still gives Kweli plenty of room talk greasy:
My rhymes inspired by enviroments of the very violent
I’m the voice of a generation that’s very silent
I stick to my convictions like I’ve been indicted
All you n****s throwing me shade you about to get enlightened
Kweli’s messages ring loud and clear throughout Radio Silence. He urges black unity on “All of Us,” with Jay Electronica finally emerging from his underground bunker to deliver a blistering guest verse. “Knockturnal” is a creative look at the terrors of urban life, from generational curses to crippling poverty. Some might write off “The One I Love” as lightweight radio fare, but it delivers a keen message on relationships. And Kweli brings out the Resurrection Sunday revival No. 2 mass choir for the inspiring “Heads Up, Eyes Open,” featuring one of the better verses I’ve heard all year:
A wise man know what he know and what he doesn’t
If he’s not really sure what he’s saying, he don’t discuss it
A righteous man walks the earth without judgment
And loves his enemies enough to deliver justice
A pious man relies on religion for his direction
At times he introspective, but his biblehood never questioned
A dying man will make a confession, try to get into heaven
Thinking his lifestyle is blocking his blessing
A violent man will stock up on weapons and go to war for his
Get post-traumatic stress disorder, become an officer
A man of peace uses his words in different mediums
He’ll bleed for his beliefs practicing civil disobedience
An honest man knows only liars are scared of the truth
His word is his bond, but his action’s always the proof
A faithful man never need evidence to believe
But still he gotta work for the blessings that he receives
Kweli thankfully bucks the annoying new trend of dropping a triple disc 90-minute album, instead keeping Radio Silence a tight, concise 11 tracks. The margin for error is small, with the only slight misstep being “Chips,” which feels a tad bit dated. But hey, he drags a decent verse out of Waka Flocka Flame, so there’s even a blessing in that.
The album wraps up with “Write at Home,” a blend of Datcha’s spoken word and Talib’s bars. Talib lays out his life’s purpose in just two bars: “Trying to describe us, you might as well get it straight/We them content creators, we greater than clickbait.”
In other words, Black America is so much more than we’re depicted in media. If you want to hear our true story, the griot’s got the answers.
This guy is too good to be silenced.
Best tracks: “Traveling Light,” “All of Us,” “She’s My Hero”
4 stars out of 5