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Talib Kweli 

Right About Now (Koch)

The album title is a common hip-hop stage expression (usually meaning "coming up next") that Kweli turns into a striking life motto with a homonym so obvious, it's a wonder no rapper has ever mined it before. And that sums up the strengths and weaknesses of a halfway-there return by this founding father of hip-hop's current "indieground."

Four solo albums and six years after Black Star made him famous, Talib Kweli settles into the typical stance of a veteran rapper trying to maintain his slice of turf, yet he frequently bursts open his commonplace sound with uncommon smarts and language.

So he gets confessional by name-dropping, bitches about getting paid his due, and blusters about the hardness of his ego and his culture. Yet Kweli brings his tracks -- which range from funky to doom-laden -- to life with radical political observations and daring metaphors that demonstrate the fierce will to survive ("somebody's mommy clutching a palm tree in a tsunami"). And with guests from MF Doom to the great Jean Grae reminding us how he paved the way for an underground more freaky than "bougie," this frustrating quickie at least earns Kweli the right to write about now again.

More by Franklin Soults

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