Talib Kweli and Styles P Speak for the Marginalized on ‘The Seven’ EP
Talib Kweli and Styles P both began their carers as parts of a unit, with Talib making his entrance alongside Mos Def on the 1998 album, Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, while Styles P would find his footing as a member of The LOX. However, both rappers have been able to branch off and enjoy fruitful solo careers and exceed expectations, remaining relevant nearly 20 years after their respective debuts were released, with plenty still left in the tank.
Talib and Styles, two of the more outspoken veterans in a rap landscape that is equally influenced by social media as the streets, have emerged as thoughtful MCs with plenty of sociopolitical commentary. So when the pair announced that they were teaming up for a collaborative project, the pairing appeared to be a no-brainer, with many anticipating its arrival. That project, The Seven EP, has since been liberated and lives up to hype, with the two New Yorkers combining for a sample size of politically-driven lyricism over vintage boom-bap.
“The number 7 is the seeker, the thinker, the searcher of truth,” a voice says amid tribal drums at the beginning of “Poets & Gangstas,” the introductory salvo on The Seven EP. Produced By Nottz, “Poets & Gangstas” finds the two rhyme specialists wasting no time doing their bidding, immediately setting the tone with a selection that finds them bouncing off each other and displaying a chemistry that is evident by the end of the track. “They prayin’ ’cause the bars is godly/I’m a Black star like Marcus Garvey/I’m rocking with Styles P, the ghost/’Cause most these rappers is mouthy,” Talib kicks, in between dropping witty one-liners like “These culture vultures claim they like rap but be acting like Sean Hannity understanding me?” Lyrics like these are a clear sign that the Brooklynite is very in tune with the current events that are capturing the country’s attention.
More menacing and abrasive than his cohort, Styles P curbs his criminal tendencies on The Seven, instead tapping into the chamber that inspired him to craft songs like “I’m Black” on past projects. Trending more towards Talib Kweli’s brand of heady musings about the powers that be and disrupting the system holding the underprivileged captive, Styles P’s gangster is felt on the Oh No-produced “Brown Guys,” which captures him lamenting the effects of White privilege and juxtaposing it with the plight of minorities. “Nigga please, you see that White boy, that’s a nigga b/Nigga ain’t a color, it’s a mindstate, you diggin’ me?/Maybe not, I get it tho/But all them White boys blowin’ weed they some niggas too,” the Yonkers rep barks over the Blaxploitation-inspired soundscape, while Talib touches on the Freddie Gray tragedy and extremism, the latter of which has been what President Trump and his administration say is at the crux of their attacks on the Islamic community.
“Extremism is ugly no matter what or where/People who don’t believe in god kill all the time/The Bible more violent than the Quran, you see what’s in there?/Ain’t no belief system got a monopoly on all the crime,” Talib explains, pointing out the hypocrisy and flawed logic in that rhetoric. Despite being a dynamic pairing in their own right, Talib and Styles phone in a few other guests to join them on The Seven, as is the case on “Nine Point Five,” which features NIKO IS on the hook and Styles’ LOX brethren Jadakiss and Sheek Louch contributing verses of their own. Produced By Marco Polo, “Nine Point Five” begins with Talib mentioning the debate over global warming and other hot button topics, but also references the rapper’s disdain with rap pioneer Afrika Bambaataa, the leader of the Zulu Nation who was recently accused of sexual abuse of minors throughout the 1980s. “Made in His image, are we worshiping the man or not?/Get an uncomfortable feeling every time I hear “Planet Rock”/Disappointed in the leadership, hand to God,” Kweli raps, making it clear where he stands on the allegations, which blindsided many hip-hop enthusiasts and artists alike.
A Malcolm X speech precedes “In the Field,” and is followed by Common, who links up with The Ghost and frequent collaborator Kweli on the 88-Keys-produced affair “Teleprompters.” “Eager for the evening, the night is like breathing/We do wrong for all the right reasons” Common delivers, while Styles chimes in with guttural musings like, “Know what police do, If you ain’t got the vision to see through/They’ll leave you in the water like seafood,” while Vic Orena navigates tumbling drums while tackling the hook.
The Seven‘s streak of bangers is continued with “Let It Burn,” a Khrysis-produced offering that features Chris Rivers and Rapsody, and finds Styles P pondering, “All praises due to Allah/But we worship the dollar, so what we gonna do for Jihad?” and dropping the clever boast, “Ain’t the new Black Star, but shit I’m the Mos’,” and makes it clear that The Seven is its own entity. Among the more dominant female spitters in the rap game, Rapsody turns in a monstrous closing verse, with couplets like, “Millions march and they still buildin’ Dakota pipelines/I’m still writing pipe lines/Crack, Prince said this a sign of the times/I’m waiting on a day that I cover a Time” that are liable to entice listeners reach for their rewind buttons, and effectively stealing the show from her counterparts.
Collaborative projects tend to be hit and miss, but Talib Kweli and Styles P avoid turning in a glorified collection of filler and patchwork with The Seven, constructing a focused and entertaining effort with the intent of waking up the culture and analyzing the matters at hand. Throughout the album’s seven tracks, Talib Kweli and Styles P confront an array of topics that have impacted America and the world at large as of late, and mince no words while doing so. The Seven is a no-frills exhibition of lyrical wizardry and an honest examination of government and society that cuts right into the thick of things, making it an essential listen in this current political climate.
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