Talib Kweli – Radio Silence

Radio Silence
Title: Radio Silence

Artist: Talib Kweli

Label: Javotti Media

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release date: November 17, 2017



Is it the current political atmosphere or possibly just time for the genre to once again acknowledge its roots? Whatever the reason, there is a conscious stream of artists dominating mainstream rap right now, and Talib Kweli is leading the way. Kweli is no stranger to the scene—his first collaborative group, Black Star, was formed with Mos Def in 1997—and to date, he has worked with artists Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Just Blaze, the Beastie Boys and Kendrick Lamar. Kweli is featured on Dave Chappell’s Block Party, both as an actor and a soundtrack artist. In 2011 he founded his own label, Javotti Media, billed as “a platform for independent thinkers and doers.”* With an eye on social issues both past and present, Kweli offers us his take on 2017 with his latest, Radio Silence.

The album unlocks with “The Magic Hour,” a song that introduces the album’s concepts and purpose through magical lyricism. Opening with the ethereal sounds of strings and a choir, the tune carves its own place in the world of rap solely on these feature alone. Kweli’s opening line, “Last one to fall asleep, first one to wake up. No Doubt. It’s the Magic Hour,” layered on top of an upbeat piano riff sets the standard for the remainder of this Brooklyn phenom’s offerings. The song’s final chords fade away under Kweli’s assurance that “hip hop will flourish with nourishment and the proper care,” a parental line from one who has been there, done that, and knows how to make it last.

The philosophy continues to pour out of this rap statesman rhyme after rhyme. The second track, “Traveling Light,” thumps the pulpit of Kweli’s truth through musings about his own genesis towards the rap dimension. Unquestionably possessing a magical talent for deep lyricism, he brings Anderson .Paak’s smooth vocals into the track to compliment his message. “All of Us” unfastens the mood even further with its break-out sampling of a rally for justice. Jay Electronica of Roc Nation and powerhouse Yummy Bingham spin their consciousness right along Kweli, adding a multi-layered resonance reverberating past the very last strain of violin fade-out. The lead single, “Radio Silence,” is a blend of Kweli and Myka 9’s exceptional cypher savvy interspersed with Amber Coffman’s haunting refrains. Never one to ignore the heart strings for long, Kweli and BJ The Chicago Kid’s “The One I Love” reminds us that regardless of what’s going on, that one special person makes it all worthwhile.

Of all the offerings not explicated here—“Chips,” “Knockturnal,” “Let It Roll,” “Write at Home”—by far, the standout is “Heads Up Eyes Open.” Dedicated to late rap promoter Kenneth “Headqcouterz” Walker, this part testimonial/part inspirational melody features not only mind-bending truthfulness on topics such as police brutality and protest rights, but also functions as a call for honesty and faithfulness because “the picture is so much bigger than what we could even imagine.” Indeed. Talib Kweli’s vision is so much larger than what we typically conceptualize. This portfolio of political discourse keeps challenging and teaching long after the voices, piano riffs and handclaps fade away.

Radio Silence, through its proverbial introspections and uplifting retrospection, seamlessly moves its message through the airwaves of our minds. In Talib Kweli’s world, silence truly does speak louder than words.

Reviewed by Amy Aiyegbusi


BJ The Chicago Kid – In My Mind

bj the chicago kid _ in my mind

Title: In My Mind

Artist: BJ The Chicago Kid

Label: Motown

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: February 19, 2016



“I love God, but I also love mob movies.” With these 9 words, BJ The Chicago Kid (a.k.a. Bryan James Sledge) begins In My Mind, an album that by its conclusion proves to be a record of immense musical intensity about the narrator’s personality, personhood, and opinions. The “I” in the quote that begins this paragraph remains the object of the album’s songs; BJ’s world and opinions are the subjects of our concern until the very end. To treat personality, personal opinion, and personhood musically, he explores familiar terrain with care, producing an album of R&B and soul songs that not only twists lyrics and resonating rhythms into first person dramas, but also into observations of the world that he lives in.

In My Mind is intensely felt throughout. Though it is not one of the best songs on this album, “Turnin’ Me Up” it is a great love song. Love, according to this song, is a simple, convivial, and lush chant. “Jeremiah/World” is what happens when simplicity is done well. What’s fascinating about this song is that it’s one of the least dramatic songs on the album, but also one of the most pleasant to listen to.  Pleasantry is not what BJ The Chicago Kid is aiming for, however, as he references the prophet Jeremiah’s calling, asserting that “the feeling that he had then / I have right now.”

“The New Cupid” is a song that reveals that BJ The Chicago Kid is better at singing soul music than sin city R&B. We are introduced to a truly great voice when he sings that “Cupid is gone.” Kendrick Lamar makes a contribution, his rap elevating BJ’s singing.


“Woman’s World” is a very important song on the album. “I know that you heard that this is man’s world” flips the script on James Brown’s classic hit, extolling the virtues of femininity, an update that feels far more apropos in 2016. “Home” and “Crazy” contextualize the album, emphasizing BJ’s personality.

These days, we’ve come to expect the same romantic dramas from R&B. This is especially the case in the music of R&B of male singers. However, In My Mind contains a different kind of drama, one that incorporates the more varied themes that hip hop artists address into an R&B format.

What’s missing from this album is further musical refinement, despite its being an album of some the most nuanced R&B and soul released recently. The entire album is in simple vernacular language; perhaps further lyrical revision could have made the poetry as thrilling as the narratives, ultimately improving the songs. The songs’ arrangements could have also been more precise to emphasize the complex rhythmic vocabulary the artist employs. In My Mind seems humorless at times; BJ The Chicago Kid does not laugh much on this album except for during one skit and listeners seeking entertainment value exclusively may find this tone a bit sharp.

In My Mind is an intense listen and its slower songs are terrific. Though BJ The Chicago Kid is best at singing soul music, the album’s pitfall is that it chooses to not experiment as much as its musicians could, rather choosing to work in the more minimalistic contemporary R&B mold.


Reviewed by Adolf Alzuphar