Talib Kweli, The Beautiful Struggle (2004)
Talib Kweli often serves as a lightning rod for critics disenchanted by the unfulfilled promise of the late-90s indie hip-hop movement. Much of The Beautiful Struggle probably won’t satisfy them, thanks to fluffy cuts such as “Around My Way,” where guest John Legend sings over a smooth jazz interpolation of the Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.” Other songs, however, prove that Kweli can still bring it, as he addresses everything from squashing beef in the black community (“Work It Out”) to the challenges of raising a young daughter (“Black Girl Pain”). “I speak in schools a lot because they say I’m intelligent/I know it’s ‘cause I’m dope, if I was wack I’d be irrelevant,” he rhymes on the title track. Musically uneven and lyrically on-point, The Beautiful Struggle isn’t bad. The maudlin single “I Try,” and its Mary J. Blige chorus, was one of producer Kanye West’s only flops during his 2004 MVP-caliber year. Kweli’s old Reflection Eternal partner Hi-Tek also produced a few tracks. This was one of the last products of Rawkus’ doomed business arrangement with Geffen, and the influential label collapsed soon afterwards.