That both 50 Cent and Jay-Z have named Brooklyn MC Talib Kweli as their favourite rapper hasn't changed the fact that sales of his last five albums have never reflected the level of respect shown to hiphop's smooth-flowing street poet laureate. Kweli appears determined to change that with the long-awaited Ear Drum. It's the debut release for the new Warner-distributed Blacksmith boutique label run by his manager, Corey Smyth, whose roster includes Jean Grae and the Xzibit-fronted Strong Arm Steady.
Throughout the 16 varied tracks of the collabo-crazy disc (which benefits enormously from the on-point production of Madlib, Hi-Tek, Kanye West, Kwame and Will.i.am), Kweli's curse- 'n' cliché-free rhyme-ripping proves he needs no help on the microphone. He outshines his celebrated guests, including labelmate Grae, KRS-One, Norah Jones (!), Sonia Sanchez, UGK's Pimp C and Bun B, Musiq Soulchild and Raheem DeVaughn.
And judging from the fact that the track Nature doesn't appear to have made the final cut, Kweli's confident enough in his combination of righteous rhetoric and funky beats not to need to use his throwdown with Justin Timberlake as an added sales incentive.