CMJ - "[H]is lyrical ability and dexterity still shine through....The project is clearly an attempt by Kweli to move into a more personal, idiosyncratic mode of storytelling..."
Billboard (p.35) - "PRISONER OF CONSCIOUS is the perfect storm of mainstream tunes dipped in social commentary."
If Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli really is a Prisoner of Conscious, as the title to his 2013 album suggests, then of course radio-aimed crossover numbers are the proper way to make a jailbreak, so bring on T-Pain and Weezy and start climbing those charts. Actually, T-Pain isn't here and the literate MC's collaboration with Lil Wayne remains stuck on Kweli's great Attack the Block mixtape, but this casual stroll into the mainstream does feature Nelly on the "Music is a part of me" song "Before He Walked" ("You download it for free, but what I create is sacred/It cost you nothing but I pay to make it") while Miguel shows up on "Come Here," one of the most artistic and art-filled hip-hop come-ons on wax ("She rock a fella center like Diego in the lobby/As valuable as The Scream or Salvador Dali"). Radio regulars Curren$y and Kendrick Lamar appear on the rather loose "Push Thru," but the most valuable guest stars are Seu Jorge for his work on the Brazilian-flavored "Favela Love" ("Pow! That's the sound like onomatopoeia/Got me floating when you rocking my boat like Aaliyah") and Busta Rhymes, who brings some gruff, comic relief to the wicked "Rocket Ships." Strange that the Busta-assisted swagger-fest clumsily stumbles out of the sensitive and effective "Delicate Flowers" ("She emo-bloggin', I'm boiling her hemoglobin"), plus the album's title takes on a different meaning when the closing "It Only Gets Better" suggests freedom fighters like Mumia and Pussy Riot are the true Prisoners of Conscious. Still, the off-topic and amazing "Hamster Wheel" ("How she gonna make it through the night? /How she so accepting of her station in life?" offered with an Al Green-sized helping of hurt) is here, and when that's added to all the other highlights, the album is well above worthwhile, as scattershot and frustrating as it is. ~ David Jeffries