Rawkus - 2004 - 58 minutes

Talib Kweli is a thinking man's rapper, an MC who intelligently grapples with personal dilemmas, urban stories and the issues of the day. His clear, distinctive delivery and a fertile musical partnership with producer/DJ Hi-Tek has established him alongside Mos Def, Common and Black Thought as a key voice in
alternative hip-hop.

But these days, being well-regarded and credible just isn't enough for your average rapper. After the resolutely left-field style of 'Reflection Eternal' and 'Black Star', Kweli edged towards the mainstream on last year's 'Quality'. Rather than relying solely on Hi-Tek, Kweli drafted in a roster of production talent, including latest wunderkind Kanye West, who delivered a massive commercial sound on that album's excellent hit single 'Get By'.

Seems like Kweli enjoyed his taste of the limelight. 'The Beautiful Struggle' is a sonic sequel to 'Quality', with a slightly more commercial direction. The Neptunes continue to defy the laws of physics by popping everywhere, at every time, chipping in the nervy 'Broken Glass'. Kanye West contributes the anthemic 'I Try', which, disappointingly, is really just 'Get By Part II', while the combination of crunching guitars and Kraftwerk bleeps on 'We Got the Beat' is an experiment that doesn't quite come
off. 'Around My Way' is easily the lowlight, the sweet tones of John Legend required a bitter or spiky accompaniment as a counterpoint, instead of a stodgy arrangement that is middle of the road and uninspired.

Verbally, Kweli is as enlightened as ever. It's hard to imagine Ludacris or Nelly uttering lines like "You're busy screaming gangster, gangster/All that talk is trife/You've already lost the fight/If you don't know the cost of life".

The best is saved until last, with the album's title track seeing old sparring partner Hi-Tek delivering an exceptional production that matches the mind behind the microphone. It's a spine-tingling reminder of how good Talib Kweli can be.

An honourable disappointment.

Luke McManus

Tracklisting: Going Hard - Back Up Offa Me - Broken Glass - We Know - A Game - I Try - Around My Way - We Got the Beat -
Work It Out - Ghetto Show - Black Girl Pain - Never Been in Love
Beautiful Struggle - Supreme, Supreme