• Jon Pareles
  • The New York Times
  • January 08, 2007

The Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli has been giving away “Liberation,” his new 30-minute, nine-song mini-album, as a free download at, but it’s no throwaway. Working with the producer Madlib, Mr. Kweli plunges into his usual mix of politics, boasting and autobiography. This time he treats the music as more of a partner than before.

Mr. Kweli’s delivery has always reinforced the combativeness of his lyrics. Instead of riding the beat, his sharp, nasal voice and his rhymes push against it. His 2004 album, “The Beautiful Struggle,” couldn’t reconcile Mr. Kweli with pop hooks. On “Liberation” Mr. Kweli and Madlib worry less about commercial imperatives and revel in the give-and-take of rhythm and rhetoric.

Madlib pulls rich vamps out of lushly orchestrated sweet soul obscurities. He also plays smart games with tracks like “The Function,” with a piano bass line that has notes dropping in and out as it repeats.

Consciousness raising is still Mr. Kweli’s main mission; “Happy Home” celebrates the togetherness and rising ambitions of his family through generations, while “Over the Counter” juggles self-promotion and geopolitics: “CDs sellin’ like nuclear weapons in North Korea.” But he also has tales of crime in “Engine Running” and confused romance in “What Can I Do,” which Madlib turns into a vertiginous soul medley. “Liberation” is more casual than Mr. Kweli’s usual manifestoes, and the glimmer of playfulness helps.