Audio Mixer: Khrysis.
If his 2013 album Gravitas felt like a return to form that was crafted for established fans, Indie 500 is a more welcoming yet still weighty return for Talib Kweli, and one that deserves the "collaborative album" tag as all production comes from supreme beatmaker 9th Wonder. The underground producer earns his top billing with a cohesive set of beats that contrast sharp bass with high-flying soul up top, some of it looped and chopped together into impossible music and some of it hanging loose, as if these songs came from a live band. Talib, who often gets words like "preachy" thrown at him, ends up a wonderful combination of uncompromising and attractive, pulling the listener in with witty punch lines like "I've been pimpin' poems like I'm Blowfly" ("Lo-Fi") and then barking out the revolutionary talk like he was wearing Professor Griff's uniform with "Your silence is unappreciated" and "It's completely up to you/Whether or not we get the upper hand" (both from the fantastic opener, "Which Side Are You On"). There are no Nelly appearances like before but the necessary levity comes when "Prego" soars with bright production as Talib, Pharoahe Monch, and Slug party and flex around the pool, while the midtempo empowerment cut "Life Ahead of Me" proves a man can be both an optimist and a realist, dropping "I'm connected, it's my specialty" then "I judge a man by their enemies." Play it after waking up and "Great Day in the Mourning" becomes an aptly titled highlight where the MC gives up the rude and aware "You say you love hip-hop, but are still involved?/Some of this real-life shit, it don't appeal to blogs." Giving the finger to the establishment and their stable of sellouts while standing tall and puffing out its chest, Indie 500 is all about reaping the rewards of your own pride and earning that positive sense of self. That this message comes with a funky backbeat makes it all the better. ~ David Jeffries