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Talib Kweli, chart-topper?

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Talib_l

Talib_lWell, not quite. A little soundtrack called High School Musical 2 took care of that. But it was still a pleasant surprise to find the ever-clever Brooklyn emcee at No. 2 on this week’s Billboard albums chart when the numbers came in last night. Kweli sold 60,000 copies of his new CD Eardrum this week — not nearly enough to stop the teeming mob of cash-wielding tweens who picked up HSM 2, of course, but plenty to beat out everyone else in a slowish sales week.

That includes rap producer Swizz Beatz, whose solo debut One Man Band Man sold 45,000 copies for a seventh-place finish. It’s hard to predict CD sales in advance these days, but I’d never have guessed that one. After all, Swizzy has a much bigger mainstream profile than Kweli. He’s produced tons of smashes for others, and even dropped two sizable singles of his own this summer (“It’s Me B—-es” and “Money in the Bank”). Kweli, despite the many moments of brilliance in his past releases, has yet to crack pop radio.

So what gave him the edge this time? Obviously, the answer is EW’s mighty music staff: Josette Compton gave Kweli a well-earned A, while I tossed Swizz a B-despite my love of “It’s Me…” Seriously, though, it appears that fansof smart, nuanced hip-hop aren’t as few and far between as they’resometimes assumed to be. Just a few weeks ago, Kweli’s fellow poetCommon nabbed the first No. 1 debut of his long career with Finding Forever.The people who brought home both Com and Kwe’s latest will find plentyof vivid metaphors and thought-provoking theses (plus some superlativebeats) without any gratuitous slurs or threats. Even Bill O’Reillywould have trouble finding out-of-context quotes to bash hip-hop withon those discs, though I’m sure he’d think of a way to pull it off.Could it be that the much-debated subgenre of “conscious rap” hasfinally become a formidable chart force after all these years?

Maybe not. But as someone who spent the late ’90s fervently wishing that, say, “Respiration” could get more radio play than the Swizz-produced (and NSFW) “Money, Cash, Hoes,” I know I’m celebrating this week. (And “Money, Cash, Hoes” was one of the commercial rap tracks that I sorta liked at the time, mind you!) Who’s with me?

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