Talib Kweli has the most unique flows of any conscious rapper, and if his spoken word-inspired rapping meant sometimes there were too many syllables stuffed in the same line, it also meant that there was a ton of layers to navigate, and tons of rewards making the navigation worth it. Starting around here, he dumbed down that flow (sample lyric: “Performing like an orgasm, my girl ain’t even cum yet”) to coincide with his dumbed down beats: the nadir is when Midi Mafia (who?) mixes electrohouse, pop and rock in the most pathetically pandering beat you’ve ever heard on “We Got the Beat.” The purists were half-right to write off The Beautiful Struggle; half-right because it deserves to be written off, not because Talib Kweli attempted to enter the mainstream, but because Talib Kweli’s attempt at entering the mainstream kind of sucks. Protip: other than Quality and a shortened version of Eardrum, there is not a single album released under Talib Kweli’s real name (ie. not released as Reflection Eternal or with Mos Def) that’s good. Fascinatingly, Mos Def is also only good for two albums!
The specifics? You’ve got the cluttered beats of “Going Hard,” the aforementioned “We Got the Beat” and “Work It Out” (which works hard at obscuring the best verse on the album – you’ll know it when you hear it). Elsewhere, Kanye West recycles “Get By” for lead single “I Try” (given the titles, they weren’t even trying to cover up the self-plagiarism), but because he couldn’t sample “Sinnerman” twice, he gets John Legend to play a second-rate piano line and gets Mary J. Blige to sing a second-rate hook, and I have no idea what Pharrell was trying to do with the hook on “Broken Glass”, but it grates (and it doesn’t even try to fit the fucking song, given the subject matter). The other two Hi-Tek beats get by on brand name alone (though there are some nice horns somewhere in “Back Up Offa Me”), and for the soul-rap stuff, you can find better verses and better beats on The College Dropout and/or Be.