Talib Kweli’s reputation as the rapper’s rapper is based on his inventive rhyme schemes, but his underground credentials were established in cahoots with fellow MC Mos Def in Black Star and with DJ Hi-Tek on the classic “Reflection Eternal.” On his own, his skills are often compromised by the shrillness of his screeds, which are still in evidence on his latest, but no longer sound like sloppily worked out editorials.

On “Eat to Live” he rants about the contamination in our food, but connects it credibly to the larger issue of poverty and hunger. Socially responsible, Kweli brings in guests who avoid gangsta cliches, though the best cut here is a collaboration with Houston’s Underground Kingz that celebrates the brotherhood of hip-hop, regardless of implied criminal affinity. And on “Give ‘Em Hell” he discusses all sides of the religion question from the standpoint of someone who believes in God but “learned that heaven and hell exist right here on Earth.”

Lyrically, this is Kweli’s best solo outing because he’s replaced cynicism with skepticism, and musically it’s his best because he’s decided to relax. He no longer sounds uptight when attempting a pop song, and gets refreshingly crazy with the gospel and R & B motifs he obviously loves more than hip-hop itself.

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