Published Dec 15, 2013Talib Kweli never quite crossed over, and he seems to have made peace with that. The New York underground king and one half of Black Star has always accrued respect and love from backpackers, but seemed out of place on major labels. On his sixth solo album and second independent release, Gravitas, the rapper finds a comfortable groove in his sound and message. The album is a quick corrective after the more crossover-oriented Prisoner of Conscious earlier in 2013. The pairing of bluesman Gary Clark Jr. and Big K.R.I.T.'s thickly-accented Bible-thumping on "Demonology" is inspired, and Raekwon and Kweli make a explosive combo on "Violators."
Tracks where Kweli delves into social and political analysis are a mixed bag. Despite the rapper's impressive double-time flow on "State of Grace," his portrait of a woman falling out of love with hip-hop is tired; Kweli has touched on these subjects more eloquently on earlier albums. However, "The Wormhole" is one of the most insightful songs he's ever penned, where Kweli unmasks hip hop's Illuminati fascination over a churning Oh No beat. "Rare Portraits" delivers Kweli's autobiography from rhyming on park benches with Mos to his current status as conscious-rap's spokesman. If you don't love Kweli, Gravitas won't change your mind, but lifelong fans will definitely find a lot to appreciate on this slight but enjoyable album. (Independent)