Lend Him Your Ears 

Bangin' on Eardrums with Talib Kweli

It's raining as I write this, like it has for the past two goddamn weeks, and I'm in a pretty miserable state, like I've been for the past two goddamn weeks, and I'm wondering why Talib Kweli can't catch a break.

Okay, he can. He's caught a few, actually, but none of them have panned out. Showing up in '98 with Mos Def as the duo Black Star, Kweli followed that acclaimed album with Reflection Eternal, a duo with producer Hi-Tek. Reflection Eternal made one of history's only 100 percent perfect albums, Train of Thought. But Train didn't take off like it should've, and neither did Kweli's solo albums, Quality and The Beautiful Struggle. The guy even got featured on Chappelle's Show (and scored screen time in Dave Chappelle's Block Party), got an admiring shout-out on Jay-Z's The Black Album, had a single with Mary J. Blige ("I Try"), and guest tracked on Kanye West's The College Dropout.

That's a lot of exposure for someone who still isn't on most hiphop listeners' iPods, which makes me think it's not that people don't know about Talib Kweli, it's that they don't care. Which—especially today, with this goddamn rain—is starting to make me pretty angry. Because Talib Kweli sums up much of what's great about hiphop: a skill for spitting smart, intricate rhymes, an ear for catchy hooks and beats, a relentless creativity (Quality boasts samples from Nina Simone... and Chuck Mangione).

I keep waiting for the album that'll push his music into people's heads. Maybe it's Eardrum, which comes out in January. The slick video for the first single, Listen!!!, hit YouTube in August; beginning with Kweli intoning "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears," soon the track finds him meditating on the current state of hiphop and offering his own literary, relevant observations as an alternative: "Bangin' on the system/Fightin' my kinda war/Loud as a whisper/Quiet as a lion's roar/Ladies and gentlemen, get ready, here comes/Talib Kweli, and I'm bangin' on your eardrum." Yeah. Here's hoping.

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