By David Johnson-Igra
A new year is about new beginnings. Hopefully, Madlib and Talib Kweli’s collaboration will liberate hip-hop from the shackles of monotony. Close your eyes, and imagine the duo as humanitarians serving their new release for free as a source of hope for the future of hip-hop. Freshly prepared for the New Year, the nine-track album entitled “Liberation,” was initially free to download at Rappcats.com during the first week of January. If hip-hop is dying, “Liberation” is the phoenix hoping to revive the spirit. While most emcees are stagnant, Kweli continues progressing. With 2007 comes the dawn of the Blacksmith label, with artists Kweli and Jean Grae showcasing the talent. On Kweli’s Mypsace.com profile he states, “With Blacksmith, I want it to be a flag that everyone can wave.” Kweli won’t let hip-hop die. While mainstream rap is about how much bling you got, Kweli raps on “Funny Money” about music, money and surviving when he states, “I’m not a pimp running a stable/I’m a kid with a vision running a label.” On “Liberation” Kweli is communicating to listeners that creativity and originality are still thriving outside the radio waves of bling bling. On “The Show,” Kweli raps with a flow sounding less Eternal Reflection and more MF Doom. The album features Consequence and fellow Blacksmith artist, Strong Arm Steady.If you’ve been listening to underground hip-hop, you’ve probably heard of Madlib. His fusion of Motown soul and west coast funk makes him a pillar of hip-hop production. His creativity exceeds his name, so he has more than one. Whether producing jazz as Yesterday’s New Quintet, rapping as Quasimoto, or producing under Madlib, Otis Jackson is full of talent. “Liberation” is no different than the rest of Madlib’s work. Simply said, the album isn’t banging beats. From “Engine Running” with its complex drum pattern, to “Funny Money” with its heavy sampling of jazz, Madlib produces hot beats like Bush produces international problems. I respect both artists for trying to keep hip-hop alive by maintaining individuality and experimentation. For those anticipating Kweli’s “Eardrum,” “Liberation” is merely an aperitif. Kweli states on his Myspace profile that ‘Eardrum’ is a “different project with different influences.” In the meantime be on the lookout for “Liberation” in commercial release, if only to support the movement towards producing real hip-hop. The album is not a classic, it’s a turning point.