“State of Grace” is the rarest of things: a 5-star song from an artist whose prime has long passed (more than a decade ago, actually), and it always physically nauseates me whenever someone condemns Talib Kweli’s spoken word-inspired style and praises the more generic, less knotty one he adopted in his later career when at his best – what rare instances those were – he could deliver something like this; we need all the world to conform that we ain’t lonely. Truthfully, ignoring the painful “umbilical cords/chords” nonsense, he spits in a way that reminds me prime Eminem, ‘cept it moves from a history of hip-hop to addressing matters of real concern while creating a character we care about in between: “Her favorite rapper invited her backstage would have stayed / But she felt like she really ain’t belong / When she wouldn’t let him hit, this nigga called her a bitch / She erased all her songs from the phone.” Notice the piano twinkles in the background.
It goes without saying that the rest of this album doesn’t come close with the exception of the autobiographical “Rare Portraits” (where second-rate producer Oh No provides us with a cool piano-into-string line), and maybe closer “Colors of You” for being quite gorgeous as expected for a J Dilla beat and unexpected for a Mike Posner feature. Maybe it’s the beats, and indeed, a lot of them simply get the job done (if that), including “Inner Monologue” (“Hoping to keep coping copious amounts of opiates”), “Violations” and “Art Imitates Life,” despite a good Black Thought feature in the lattermost (“I’m out of Philly where the ecstasy and syrup is / And we don’t need Theraflu, we need therapists”). Elsewhere, Oh No’s beat in “The Wormhole” sounds grotesque (this dorky synth and feedback buzz); “What’s Real” and “Lover’s Peak” are filler. The rap-rock “Demonology” and “New Leaders” are both decent, though the latter suffers from being overlong.
Still, this is Talib Kweli’s best album since 2007’s Eardrum, and it might be better than that since it’s about half the length.