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defend the album is a lyrics-first blog by me, bradley fields, about the stories and moments I find in albums that matter to me. Almost always in fewer than 1,000 words.

Talib Kweli's Radio Silence

When it comes from nothing, “Everything we do is a creation." We can be as proud as we are saddened by that—opposites Talib Kweli tries to balance in Radio Silence.

This shit is intense like a Pentecostal revival.

The Magic Hour sets the tone for the whole record in just 2:21. As the lede, it’s so thorough, I wonder if it was one of the last tracks written. It demos Kweli’s approach to rap (it’s about the grind). It drops cross-generational pop culture references (Mahalia Jackson and Game of Thrones). And it establishes Kweli as a purveyor of wisdom (“Let me teach how to train your dragon”). It does all that over a bright soul sample. 

Brooklyn is changing, and so am I.

Traveling Light pronounces Kweli’s origins as foundational for the genre. He uses “building and destroying” to nod to classic hip-hop, illustrate the search for truth, and boast about his own reach. The real star, though, is Anderson .Paak’s hook—the way he matches the cadence of Kweli’s flow, and the grittiness of his tone as contrast for the beat’s brass-driven treble.

If our struggle is a strain, then the strain is dominant.

There’s a call for socio-political solidarity in All for Us, but there’s compelling narrative in She’s My Hero. The latter’s Kweli’s telling of Bresha Meadows's story. Its last line is a great capture of the strain of struggle: “They either want your death or your silence.” Bresha chose neither, and Kweli praises and regrets that over a harrowing sample of Scope’s Kayakokolishi.

It’s hard to put holes in denim; this ain’t a fashion statement.

Knockturnal’s about how to survive and advance the city. It itemizes what it costs, specifically your perspective on manhood and the faith it places in role models not invested in you. Its instrumental’s a smart choice; its jazzy sample and looped sighs pair well with the lyric about hearing the city cry.

You can tell you in the ghetto from the litter in the road.

This pervasiveness—how even the smallest details are context clues—mark Radio Silence. (They also remind me of The Carmichael Show’s Kale episode.) The title track continues Knockturnal’s conversation about how those details birth experiences (“Gotta write what I’m livin in graffiti”) that reproduce those details.

Acting like I was a god in the past life.

The One I Love—off-concept like Chips—is blessed by a sample of Sampha’s Can’t Get Close. But Let it Roll does a better job as an aside, setting a relationship in context against the pursuit of art.

Top tier niggas blossomed in the basement.

In Heads Up Eyes Open, that we can start from the bottom and get here is some “Clear eyes; Full hearts; Can’t lose” inspiration. “If [a wise man’s] not really sure what he’s saying, he don’t discuss it” is probably offered, in part, as defense of the whole record. And Yummy Bingham comes through with that crackling tone on the hook.

Getting hung just for speaking the native tongue.

At the center of Write at Home is the idea that “My color is my penalty,” and still I rise—that we make from what we have and become great without being given. All over Robert Glasper on piano as the album’s close.


Notes

Release date

November 16, 2017

Producers

J Rhodes · KAYTRANADA · LordQuest · Oh No· Samuel Truth

Writers

Amber Coffman · Anderson .Paak · Bilal · BJ The Chicago Kid · Datcha · Jay Electronica · KAYTRANADA · Myka 9 · Oh No · Rick Ross · Robert Glasper · Talib Kweli · Waka Flocka Flame · Yummy Bingham

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