When I jumped out of bed this morning, I was fully planning on diving straight into Kendrick Lamar’s new album DAMN., which is eclipsing everything from John Mayer’s The Search for Everything to Jesus Christ’s death-by-crucifixion. Thing is, I’m a sucker for the underdog, so I couldn’t help but spot Talib Kweli and Styles P’s The Seven EP out of the corner of my eye.
Fuck it, seven songs from two of my favorite rappers? Can’t hurt. Besides, Kendrick’s going nowhere. (Unless he’s more like God’s son than we thought.)
I regret nothing.
Armed with knowledge, bars and fire in their bellies, The Seven EP is a quickstrike assault from two of the game’s most seasoned emcees. Over the seven tracks, Talib and Styles tag-team police brutality (“Brown Guys”), racists in sheep’s clothing (“Poets & Gangstas”) and not least wack rappers. "As hip-hop grows to the point where many rappers have become caricatures of themselves, myself and Styles P remain a part of a group of MCs that still consider the culture in every decision we make," Talib explained earlier this year. "[We are] the last ones left."
The most brutal lyrical attack comes on “In the Field,” which finds Kweli and Ghost calling out the racist system for what it is. “Yeah, there’s black-on-black crime, but there’s blue-on-brown crime / Police killing the brown man and doing no time / The judge is a nazi, D.A. in the Klan / The jail’s the plantation they spread it across the lands,” Styles raps off the bat. Hip-hop may be a young man’s game, but the OGs still have plenty of wisdom to impart when it comes to more pressing political issues.
Beyond the expectedly powerful and precise rhymes, The Seven EP also features some of the best production either Talib or Styles has rapped on in the last few years. “Brown Guys” is a jazzy joint you can smoke to, "Let It Burn" is a boom bap banger punctuated by keys and guitar riffs, while the EP’s standout, “Nine Point Five,” features a gorgeous yet gritty blend of bassline, drums, keys, strings and other lush sounds.
On the other side of the booth, Common, Rapsody, Sheek Louch and Jadakiss slide through and bolster the project with solid guest verses. The award for Best Supporting Rapper has to go to Kiss, though: “Personally, I got my bread as a crook / But once I finished with the work I dipped my head in a book,” he spits on “Nine Point Five.”
Shorter projects don’t always mean better projects, but The Seven EP strikes that delicate balance between quality and quantity. Talib and Styles say more in these 30 minutes than most rappers do in double that time; its proficiency meets efficiency. No bar feels wasted, especially when there are racist cops and wack rappers that need stamping out.
The chemistry they have as part of Blackstar and The LOX, respectively, can never be replicated. But with similar backgrounds, political perspectives and a mutual love for rhyming, Talib Kweli and Styles P solidify the alliance I've always suspected they had on The Seven EP. As Ghost raps on "Let It Burn,” “Ain’t the new Blackstar but shit, I’m the mos,’” to which Talib adds, “dope.”
The Seven EP is out now on iTunes.