On his eighth solo album, the Black Star philosopher, Talib Kweli continues his solitude and social awareness with his latest release Radio Silence. Kweli has never held back on thoughts, beliefs, and injustices of the world. In the realm of the 2017 atmosphere that has polluted every thought, Radio Silence immediately comes off as the hymn to sing into the next year, rather than the soundtrack for today. With other artists who used this year as a platform to become “woke” and truly dive into the issues of the world, some critics may look down upon Radio Silence for all the issues that Kweli did not touch on. Not one new to the work of Kweli, and any other collection the Brooklyn artist has blessed, the issues are not strewn across black and white like times heard before, but Kweli presents the issue while feeding into the problem as a form of satire relief. Well crafted, genuine, and grows with time, Kweli’s musings are that of a wise man receiving answers from up above. Not so much focusing on today, but the positives of tomorrow.
In and out of the music realm, Kweli hardly needs an introduction yet creates one with the opening track “Magic Hour.” Kweli comes out of the gate like a spitting preacher, bringing us all into the sunshine. Keeping his soulful production while creating a climatic start, the energy then eases into the album’s more prominent singles “Traveling Light.” The Kaytranda produced beat is a creation of magic that harnesses a studded track of flows and chemistry, featuring the powerful croon of Anderson .Paak.
“I’m a voice of a generation that is very silent”, remarks Kweli as he sets up .Paak’s hook. The track’s visual aspect and lyrical content diverges into multiple meanings plucking notes from the political climate to Kweli’s conscious through precise, freshness: “We the wave of the future / Never confusing protesters for looters / Silencing Radioheads and OK Computers.”
The album continues its voice as narratives are chopped throughout, building up certain tracks such as “All of Us“, featuring Jay Electronica and Yummy Bingham. This is a track that certainly reaches for unity while bluntly stating “every problem cannot be solved at the ballot box.” This track is beautiful for its double meaning that will be interpreted differently but at the same time still be universal. There’s a part that non African-Americans will not understand and we need to respect that as a listener. Writing this as a minority though, this speaks louder for what Kweli does not say but of the craft in moment of understanding, a moment of inclusion, ending with Bingham’s beautiful vocals.
While Radio Silence has its spiritual and social chakra open, it does offer variety. The aggressive and well polished, more mainstream track “Chips” featuring Waka Flaka Flame, is a direct response to any of the competition in the rap game fueled by a trap production. Nods to Pac (“Rose from the ruins like a Pac poem”) and shots to others not being as “woke”, Kweli firmly weaves that he started from nothing and will continue to last versus other one hit wonders. While “Knockturnal” and it’s J.Lbs production takes aggression towards a more elegant direction with its use of smoldering horns and a troubling snare. Leaning back on a more mainstream direction again, “The One I Love” is a self-explanatory ode featuring BJ the Chicago Kid. Kweli reassures to ignore all the talk, the hate, jealousy — the problems that stir in most relationships — because there is no other. Adding a sense of relaxation, “Let It Roll” is a guilty pleasure production; smooth and modern. Once again making notes of his style in the rap game, Kweli glides on this LordQuest production.
One of the more selfless track’s written on the album would be “She’s My Hero.” Written around Bresha Meadows, a teenager who killed her allegedly abusive father in his sleep, takes what courage truly looks like. Kweli’s narrative is vivid and sharp, one of the best story telling on this album.
The two standout tracks are without a doubt “Radio Silence” and “Heads Up, Eyes Open.” The album’s title track, “Radio Silence” slowly fills the air, completely different than everything you just heard as a whole on this collection. A futuristic beat, produced by Mr. Carmack & Abjo, takes Amber Coffman’s angelic voice raising Kweli’s and Myka 9 ‘s verses into another platform. Both rappers make note of them being “born this way”, throwing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s date of birth into the mix, while clearly summing it all up within two lines: “When I’m gettin’ introspective: that’s radio silence / When I’m fuckin’ up program directives: that’s radio violence.”
The Rick Ross and Yummy Bingham featured track, “Heads Up, Eyes Open” is a spiritual base collection of thoughts and sounds that nod to look into a higher consciousness of belief. Produced by J Rhodes, the composition is a soulful texture that is rooted with a climatic chorus. Ending the 11-track momentum with the spoken word “Write At Home“, the album’s expansion are left as intangible thoughts. Featuring Datcha, Bilal, and Robert Glasper, the track takes a simple approach over keys and unanswered questions.
Socially conscious and always politically active, Talib Kweli’s Radio Silence were one of the albums that I don’t think got the recognition it deserved. Forever an influence as the duo Black Star with fellow songwriter, Mos Def, Kweli’s craft needs to be digested multiple times to truly absorb every bit. Radio Silence not only sums up an array of double meanings but rings loud to the tone deaf society. As we close 2017, there isn’t a better album to not merely echo what this year was about, but give a sense of hope, unity, and change that needs to come within to reflect outward.