Princeton professor Dr. Cornel West’s 2001 debut rap album, entitled “Sketches of My Culture,” was met with much skepticism and debate from the hip-hop community. It is not six years later, and West is back again with his second entry in the genre, entitled “Never Forget: A Journey of Revelations.”
While many still question West’s talent, he takes a myriad of delicate subjects such as homophobia, misogyny, and the war in Iraq, offering an introspective look at many of the themes plaguing the black community today. And with an A-list of collaborators such as Andre 3000, Prince, KRS-One, Jill Scott, and the late Gerald Levert, the Princeton scholar has surely done his homework. And he may not be much of a rapper, but his message comes through loud and clear.
The album opens with “Bushonomics,” a scathing critique of the Bush administration. Here, special guest Talib Kweli is more than capable as his razor sharp delivery slices through an ominous jungle-inspired beat. “They called President Bill Clinton a hoar-monger/ voted him out and replaced him with a war-monger,” he effortlessly rhymes. But just as he heats up, Cornel West enters: “We go from the bling-bling, to let freedom ring.” While he doesn’t detract too much, stale lines such as these could use a bit more sophistication.
Next up is “America (400 Years),” handled by Lucky Witherspoon, Rah Digga and Black Thought. Kicking rhymes like, “It’s messed up how they put us in chains/ kidnapped our language and changed out names/ but when we speak ebonics, they call it a shame,” the three are competent, once again stirring up provocative debate on touchy social issues. West doesn’t get in the way too much here, but doesn’t bring a lot to the table either.
Much of the album follows in a similar suit. The collaborations featuring Prince (“Dear Mr. Man”) and Jill Scott (“What Times It Is”) are both sultry and soulful, though West’s lackluster delivery never adds much to the mix. Regardless of his technical deficiencies, however, some of West’s lyrics possess a deepness seldom seen in most rap today.
While his lethargic spoken word flow seems more appropriate for a café than on a hip-hop album, “Never Forget: A Journey of Revelations” serves as a platform for delivering a positive social message. West’s punchy-yet-tactful commentary most often succeeds when paired with a technically capable MC. For this reason, the strongest tracks here are “Bushonomics” (Talib Kweli) and “Chronomentrophobia” (Andre 3000). Dr. West understands the necessity for intelligent social commentary in hip-hop, and this is a breath of fresh air especially appreciated in the era of “Laffy Taffy” and “Ay Bay Bay.” This album is recommended for anyone who cannot stand to hear any more about spinning rims or Grey Goose. Unfortunately, due to a lack of technical prowess, I cannot endorse this album for hip-hop heads.
-Robert Burns, II
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