Liberation – “Liberation 2” review

Liberation is a MC/producer duo consisting of Brooklyn veteran Talib Kweli on the mic & Oxnard extraordinaire Madlib behind the boards. The pair first linked up in ‘07 off the strength off an eponymous self-titled debut backed by Stones Throw Records & have collaborated with each other a handful of times since, with the last time being Black Star’s long-awaited sophomore album no fear of time* about 10 months ago at this point. An album much like Gotham’s own self-titled debut the year before proved that Kweli can still make great music even though I’m not afraid to acknowledge the fact that he makes a total prick out of himself on social media these days. Nonetheless, Liberation’s returning in effect for a sequel to their debut that’s been 2 years in the making & I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to it.

After the “Assata’s Code” intro, the first song “Best Year Ever” sets the album up with a jazzy boom bap instrumental & Kweli talking about how things are only gonna get better from hereon out whereas “Air Quotes” has a more empowering quality to the beat as the subject matter delves into the fakeness & toxicity of everyone else in the rap game. “Nat Turner” with Cassper Nyovest blends trap with afrobeats obviously getting on a more conscious tip lyrically, but then “1 for Biz” with Wildchild works in some pianos along with these kicks & snares to pay homage to the late Biz Markie.

Meanwhile on “Loop Digga’s Revenge”, we have Madlib hooking up a soul sample shouting out those who grew up staring at album covers & encouraging to come to a show if you wanna see the greatest in action just before Pink Siifu tags along for the the slick “Ad Vice” talking about how unapologetic both of he & Kweli are with the latter’s daughter Diani on the hook. “Wild Sweet Love” comes through with a drumless get spacious vibe getting romantic leading into the flute/string-tinged “Wild Beauty” instrumental interlude.

The late Mac Miller slides through for “The Right to Love Us” reminding everyone what our women are fighting accompanied by a jazzy beat with some heavy kicks while “After These Messages” with Amani finds him joining his dad on the mic so the father-son pair deliver a meditation on American racism over some keys, strings & horns. Roc Marciano & Westside Gunn tag along for the sequel to the highlight track “Richies” off Hitler Wears Hermes IX down to the same Soul Superiors sample “Trust in Me Baby” as the trio bring it raw on the mic.

The track “Marathon Through Babylon” has a colder tone instrumentally as Talib & Meshell Ndegeocello both ponder why & when did everyone become such sheep as well as comparing their rhymes to that of alkaline & prior to the “Assata’s Reprise” outro, the final song “Something Special” really ends the album by mixing these synthesizers with jazz-funk icon Roy Ayers on the vibraphones by calling this innovation as opposed to imitation.

I with all respect like to compare Kweli to Kanye in the sense that both of them are established veterans with an insane amount of artistic talent who publicly make asses of themselves on the regular & I say that because when you think about that in the grand scheme of things, the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree. That being said: Liberation 2 most certainly lived up to my expectations by continuing Talib’s artistic redemption that the Gotham album began & no fear of time* continued on with. Madlib’s production is potently jazzy & dusty with the whole concept of globally unifying through space & time undeniably needed to be heard.

Score: 4.5/5

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Black Star – “no fear of time” review

This is the highly anticipated sophomore album from Brooklyn duo Black Star. Consisting of Yasiin Bey & Talib Kweli, the pair started off as childhood friends before dropping their self-titled debut in the fall of ‘98 to universal acclaim. Both parties would go on to have very successful solo careers of their own, but reunited with Madlib in late 2019 when they recorded no fear of time & is finally seeing the light of day thanks to Luminary.

“O.G. (On God)” opens up the album talking about how the real don’t die over a bass-guitar & some strings hanging in the background whereas “So Be It” has somewhat of a rugged quality to the instrumental going at the throats of anyone who wants to step up to them lyrically. “Sweetheart. Sweethard. Sweetodd” takes a more soulful route getting romantic just before “My Favorite Band” works in a crooning vocal sample to make a dedication to their favorite group of human beings.

Meanwhile on “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”, we have Yasiin & Kweli on some pianos & dusty drums talking about how automatic they are leading into the entrancing “Yonders” delivering bars like “Real G’s try to stop the violence” as well as how Satan runs everytime they smell him coming. The track “Supreme Alchemy” shoots for a more mellow sound talking about paying tribute & commemorating shortly after while the penultimate song “Freequency” with Black Thought finds the trio over a beat with some jazzy undertones to it repping the few that can sell you their life stories. The title track ends the album by keeping the jazz going talking about floating on.

I didn’t think this album would ever see the light of day, but I’m sure happy as Hell that it did because this is a stellar follow-up to their self-titled debut. Madlib’s production is a bit more abstract in comparison to the duo’s debut, but both of them sound incredibly laser-focused & manage to deliver the conscious hip hop we’ve all come to know & love them for as if it hasn’t been almost 24 years.

Score: 4.5/5

Gotham – Self-Titled review

Gotham is an MC/producer duo from New York consisting of Talib Kweli & Diamond D. The latter being a founding member of the seminal collective D.I.T.C. & was one of the first to co-sign Kweli back when he originally formed Black Star alongside childhood friend Yasiin Bey. The first time we really heard Gotham together was on “Where’s the Love?” off of Diamond D’s 2014 solo album The Diam Piece & then they got back for “The Zone Out” on the follow-up The Diam Piece 2 back in 2019 but ever since then, they’ve been hard at work on their full-length debut as a duo & I’m very excited to hear the results.

“Sons of Gotham” kicks the album off with a misty boom bap beat along with lyrics calling out “rappers acting like Kanye” whereas the next song “Olympic” incorporates an organ & a guitar as Kweli proclaims that they do this rap shit for sport. “The Quiet One” touches down on being the voice of the people accompanied by an eerie instrumental & an animalistic Busta Rhymes verse while “On Mamas” goes into a more synth-heavy direction with Kweli spitting about getting the speakers pumping. Meanwhile, the song “Attention Span” is a more atmospheric cut addressing those who’re out to lunch & the Skyzoo verse hits the nail on the head.

The track “In Due Time” is a fiery anthem about how you’ll be getting yours eventually on top of a classy boom bap instrumental whereas John Forté of all people comes into the fold to take a jab at the system on the minimally-produced “Pick Ya Head Up”. The song “Chillin’ While Black” is the one of the only 2 on the entire thing where Diamond D himself jumps on to spit as he & Kweli talk about racial profiling over a horn-inflicted beat & even though the penultimate track “I’ll Tell Ya Later” has a cool concept, the skeletal beat is underwhelming & the Niko Is feature is kinda weak. The album does end strong though, as Kweli & D hop on a dusty instrumental with some jazzy undertones to talk about holding it down.

Despite the fact that Talib’s recent output has been hit or miss with me admittedly, Gotham knocked it out of the park on this one. He & Diamond D do a damn-near perfect job at paying homage to their home-state as the lyrics & production both take listeners back to the traditional days.

Score: 4.5/5