1. Though this is Talib Kweli’s solo debut, he’s already made quite a name for himself through Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star and Train of Thought. Like both of those albums, this one could benefit from a little shortening, because Talib Kweli always tries to fit as many ideas as possible into as little time as possible and each album is exhausting before their run times are up.
2. For example, while Dave Chapelle – who’s hypeman for Kweli on the 2-minute intro – has a nice storytelling voice (as you’re probably already familiar with), but I’m left wishing the track was short and sweet, like Bernie Mac’s contributions on The College Dropout.
3. Speaking of Kanye West, he produces three beats to Quality. And while his own debut album is another two years away, he’s amassed quite the impressive resume at this point in time thanks to his contributions on the previous year’sThe Blueprint.
4. The best of his beats is “Get By” – by and far the best track here and (dare I declare) the best hip-hop track of 2002. Whereas an entire decade passing hasn’t treated either Black Star’s or Reflection Eternal’s beats very kindly, sampling a timeless song (Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman”) infuses a timeless quality to “Get By.” But Kanye West is smart enough not to let the sample take over the song, and while it is the main driving mechanism of the track, there’s enough going on that it would work without the sample. The soulful chorus is so uplifting, it’s impossible to ignore the sheer force of it, “This morning / I woke up / Feeling brand new / And I jumped up / Feeling my highs / And my lows / In my soul / And my goals […].” Meanwhile, Talib Kweli drops his best lines in the second verse, from the alliterative and internal rhymes of, “The love is unconditional / Even when the condition is critical, when the living is miserable / Your position is pivotal” to how he manages to rhyme “enlargers” with “Mars,” “The TV got us reaching for stars / Not the ones between Venus and Mars / The ones that be reading for parts / Some people get breast enhancements and penis enlargers.”
5. His ”Good to You” is another soul-influenced beat that takes injects a shot of helium into Al Green’s voice – the sort that we’d get to hearing on his debut (think: “School Spirit”). It’s the only gem in the album’s final stretch of tracks. Elsewhere, he uses a single string line to drive posse cut “Guerilla Monsoon Rap.” I think Talib inflecting his voice to deliver the hook on that track was a bad idea – it was too much of a jump. It’s a stark contrast to when the same trick used on “The Proud,” that helped that track stand out even more.
6. Other standouts come early: “Rush,” which boldly kicks the gate open with Kweli’s energy and the trumpet fanfare and melodic keyboard on top of the guitar skeleton (also, the way Talib Kweli stresses the words “Feel” and “Rush” such that “Feel the rush” sounds like “Feel, rush” predates Lupe Fiasco’s hook on “Kick, Push” by four years); “Shock Body” which might be album’s most melodic cut, thanks to tradeoff between horns and female voices, and punctuating drums for resolution and reunion of Mos Def and Talib Kweli to celebrate the joys of fatherhood on “The Joy” (that happy-to-be-alive shout is the best sample on the album from any producer not named Kanye West).
7. DJ Quik’s “Put It In the Air” gets a lot of flak, but I feel like the fun West Coast groove during the chorus (it sounds like something from an arcade game) helps give Quality an extra bit of dimension, expanding its otherwise conscious-lyrics/soul-based-beats approach.
8. Actually, the worst producer on Quality is surprisingly J Dilla, who provides the back-to-back “Where Do We Go” and “Stand to the Side” – nothing happens in either! The latter is especially a shame, since Talib Kweli and Vinia Mojica had previously killed it on “The Blast” in less than half the runtime that “Stand to the Side” takes.
9. The Star Wars references in impressive one-liners “We go through episodes too, like Attack of the Clones” on “Get By” and “Using my ‘hands solo’ and I don’t need Chewie” on “Good to You” both appeal to my inner nerd.
10. The best album under his name.