Hip-Hop and Philosophy Converge
Infused with a free range of sonic textures, Ear Drum is peppered with an eclectic accompaniment of guest artists, including reggae star Sizzla Kalonji, torch singer Norah Jones, jazz legend Roy Ayers and poet Sonia Sanchez. A nearly 80-minute long musical journey, Ear Drum is like food for the mind, soul, and ears.On his last album The Beautiful Struggle, Talib Kweli stated: "You go to church to find you some religion/ And all you hear is connivin' and gossip and contradiction/". Further demonstrating his gripe with established/organized religion, Kweli continues this theological and spiritual soul-searching on Ear Drum's 'Give 'Em Hell' in which he asks: "If we all God's children, then what's the word of the reverend worth?" Throughout Ear Drum, Talib demonstrates a continued sense of maturity and reflection. He's always been labeled a "conscious emcee", and Ear Drum persists to justify this title. With earnest passion and sentiment, Kweli dissects the ills of hunger and bad health on the soulful "Eat 2 Live": "In Africa they starvin', over here the food hurts you/ Cows goin' mad and the chickens caught the bird flu/". And in the early stages of the upcoming presidential election, there's nothing like a political shoutout ("I speak to the people like Barack Obama")...
Hip-Hop Appreciation: History and Geography
Kweli shows his loyalty to east-coast hip-hop on "NY Weather Report," pointing out the real and the fake: "N****s is watered down, used to be no biting allowed/ Now they gangstas, no cryin' aloud/". One of the album's highlights is the UGK and Raheem Devaughn-assisted "Country Cousins," in which Talib and fam voyage on a soulful excursion throughout the United States of Hip-Hop, analyzing the similarities and differences amongst the genre's regions while dropping names of the pioneers we all respect. A poignant moment on the track is when Pimp C reflects on the memory of being put on to the now infamous Black Star album. "Listen!!!" discusses the importance of keeping hip-hop true to it's essence. Fellow advocate of this cause KRS-One rides along on the album as the New York duo search for "The Perfect Beat," settling on an ethnic-styled banger that effectively captures east coast grittiness as the pair spit daggers, with Kweli declaring: "My whole body is a spiritual facility/ Where I confess after a lyrical killing spree/ The illest delivery..."
Ladies Love Cool Kwe'
All seriousness aside, Kweli still knows how to let loose and have some fun. "In the Mood" is a jazzy, alluring serenade perfectly executed to make the ladies follow the title's instructions. Kweli's charm is complimented by his wingman, the always topical Kanye West, who adds yet another comical guest spot to his resume: "If [Michael Richards] say n***a, then I’ma say.../ Is this a Ritz? Carlton.../” The track is soon followed by the surprising Norah Jones-backed "Soon the New Day," a sultry hit-and-run love tale produced by the hip-hop jazzman himself, Madlib.
The Bottom Line on Ear Drum
While it's questionable as to whether Ear Drum holds up against his previous classics, it is without a doubt that this is most certainly Talib Kweli’s most effective release to date. Ear Drum's diversity is what makes the album so great: not only as a hip-hop album, but as a testament to pure, musical creativity. Though most of the album's guest appearances are surprising to read on paper, it all clicks once you hear the method by which Talib chose to implement their various talents. Not only that, but in the midst of the wide array of supporting artists, Kweli clearly stands out as the star of the hour (and 20 minutes or so). Whereas Kwe's previous effort The Beautiful Struggle featured a handful of duds and skippable tracks, Ear Drum contains little to no filler whatsoever, an incredible feat for such a lengthy album.
All in all, Ear Drum offers an incredibly rich array of progressive hip-hop, both in its lyrical content as well as method/style. A strong album-of-the-year contender (probably '07's greatest...so far), Ear Drum is definitely worth giving a "Listen!!!"