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Talib Kweli 

Ear Drum

When underground New York rapper Talib Kweli hooked up with fellow MC Mos Def to form Black Star in the late '90s, it would have been laughable to suggest that, nearly a decade later, Mos would be best known for supporting roles in Hollywood flicks and a solo Kweli record would feature an appearance from Justin Timberlake. Nevertheless, here we are in 2007, and Kweli's new disc, Ear Drum, does indeed feature an appearance from the former N'SYNCer. Titled "The Nature," the track is a rather straightforward R&B/hip-hop crossover stab, with Timberlake on the hook and in the producer's chair. Fortunately, Kweli's flow is as buttery as ever, and his lyrics are authoritative enough that he doesn't get lost in the hype. He even does a more-than-passable version of a Dirty South flow on "Country Cousins," trading bars with UGK. At such moments it's easy to get lost in Kweli's vision, but these a-ha instances are simply spread out too thinly. Ear Drum lacks the edge that made his one-time team-up with Mos Def and Hi-Tek such an instant classic nine years ago. 3 stars

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