Despite age, many music sensitivities in hip-hop have been steered toward the kind of rap that dominated the Golden Age (80s-90s) and the start of its meteoric rise in pop. Because of this, the amounts of legendary artists that have breached the nostalgia realm and legend status have been the safer – more accessible sound in a bigger conceit of music. And as the years progressed, a myriad of these older rappers have come together and created new groups to deliver various projects. And next up at bat is rapper Talib Kweli and rapper/producer Diamond D with their debut self-titled album as the duo Gotham. Their self-titled debut takes its name from Batman, but it delivers on deeper layers than what is immediately thought of when it comes to the fictional city, which parallels with the linings of New York City’s over societal shifts from block to block in these suburbs.
Diamond D and Talib Kweli have had the kind of career on the same level of consistency of quality with many heavy hitters, but along with many from the older generation, like the recently deceased Black Rock, they didn’t fully crossover (for the better). However that isn’t due to lack of trying. This comes from maintaining a solid level of authenticity to their sound. Diamond D and Talib had phenomenal debuts, individually, but together they bring the heat with this lush debut that feels like a timepiece for an older generation, adapted to a modern era. Diamond D’s bombastic boom-bap production style lays out effervescent sequences that allow for their flows and words speaking a higher truth. It’s what makes Gotham this eloquent array of effervescent New York hip-hop that the world grew up with, but still keeping some modern sonic textures akin to what it has become now.
Taking varying degrees of direction in inflecting its themes of blackness and the duality within the racial divide we see in society. The album Gotham doesn’t hide what it is trying to be from what the duo raps about like on “Chillin’ While Black,” which takes a direct approach that reflects this notion of dual similarities between the fictional city and how the black community is treated. They drop different things they try to do, like heading to the bodega for a can of Arizona Green Tea, but there is ever-growing fear that they are seen as this non-existent alien that doesn’t deserve basic moral human rights. It is building upon the ongoing argument – seen from various videos where one can’t listen properly to an officer’s direction because of improper training. While the album centers itself on having visualizations on the lives around them, it builds upon the backstory with unique variations of allusions of content their prime audience is more akin to understanding. But it balances it out by not giving them too much to think about in the grander scheme, and staying as poignant as it can.
Talib Kweli and Diamond D go toe to toe and there are minimal times where one outperforms the others through the delivery of the metaphors and structure. However, through the thick of it, they don’t disappoint. They have a lot working for them, from the dirty smooth flows and rhythm. It’s what keeps the momentum, along with the production, in consistent motion from start to finish of the album, fortunately without forgettable moments.
Diamond D’s production continues on the same tier of consistency of his last project, The Diam Tape 2. The lush jazz-boom bap structure begins to take a new life by having the percussion evoke this gritty street feel on the overall consistency. It shines as the third co-lead in this project, even as much as maintaining it’s structure in the mind of the more lackluster tracks, like “In Due Time,” and “The Fold,” the former of which suffers from it tonal preachiness in the delivery of the chorus, as well as decent verses from the two legends. However, the duo gets some help on a few tracks to help land the deeper meaning within the songs.
A lot of the features evoke these bigger than life sequences where these artists switch from the style, we are more adjunct to seeing, into something more tamed and nostalgic of the roots they came from. Though it isn’t hard to get that sense, when you have Busta Rhymes, Skyzoo, and John Forté rounding out some of the other features on the album. Talib Kweli and Diamond D are like some of these features where they never confine themselves to a trend and let their music speak for their artistry. They reaffirm this on the track “The Quiet One,” with Busta Rhymes. Diamond D, Talib, and Busta, take us through a journey of their music and the systemic problems within society and the music industry. Diamond D, particularly, speaks more into existence from his eclectic array of production for other artists like Mos Def, The Fugees, and The Pharcyde.
Within the confines of Gotham, there is a lot to break apart. But it isn’t this hugely profound experience and more of an off road gritty journey through New York City. Though the messaging and stories are spread within the confines of their roots, it still keeps a broad spectrum for connectivity for all listeners.