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  • A maverick if ever there was one, rapper Talib Kweli is quite happy to stroll from the mainstream to the underground while refusing to carry any of the baggage those two camps might throw at him. His 2013 album, Prisoner of Conscious, featured Nelly alongside some "no sell-out" numbers and provided listeners a bit of a rocky ride, but this follow-up feels more natural as it shrugs off preconceptions left and right, flowing effortlessly, even humbly, from its boom-bap opener to its bro-rap closer. That boom-bap is brought on by the loopy, soulful production Khrysis lays underneath "Inner Monologue," an obvious inspiration for Kweli who offers serene moments ("it's the haters that make it bittersweet") and swaggering punch lines ("party like it's Mardi Gras, get the cream like it's H„agen-Dazs") all while a sample of a Neil Gaiman speech explains changing distribution models and how artists can benefit. Throughout the album, Kweli is that benefit in motion, and while "Inner Monologue" could launch a million think pieces with its pastiche of ideas and commentary, the closing "Colors of You" with Mike Posner (the guy who wrote "Bow Chicka Wow Wow" and the guy who shows up on The Ellen DeGeneres Show quite a bit) is a smooth, buttery, and sonically safe look at the world as a coloring book, where Kweli suggest he can change the hues or color outside the lines if he wants, a confidence that makes him so sexy that "It ain't the liquor that you got you considerin' callin up the sitter/Tellin' her you need a couple hours, and of course you'll tip her." Don't even let the bittersweet-bearing haters know that Posner and Kweli's great freedom overspill is sweetly delivered over a beat from the late J Dilla, but when the other key tracks come from tearing down fear of the Illuminati ("Wormhole") and the almost always iffy category of rap-rock ("Demonology" with Big K.R.I.T. and Gary Clark, Jr. stomps and groans like a Led Zeppelin song), Gravitas becomes an album where anything can happen and often does, as long as it's genuine. ~ David Jeffries
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