While his erstwhile Black Star mate Mos Def concentrated on his acting career, Talib Kweli set about crafting a truly solo follow-up to his acclaimed debut, Reflection Eternal, this time with a variety of producers in place of partner DJ Hi-Tek. The excellent Quality only ups the ante, building on its predecessor's clear-minded focus with greater scope and a more colorful musical palette. Right off the bat, it's apparent that Kweli has traded his old-school minimalism for a warmer, richer sound — complete with some live instrumentation — that's immediately inviting and accessible. The opening trio of songs — "Rush," "Get By," and "Shock Body" — ranks among the most exciting music he's recorded, and the album only branches out from there. Kweli can pull off genial, good-time hip-hop like lead single "Waitin' for the DJ" and the DJ Quik-produced "Put It in the Air," and follow it with the blistering (and incisive) political fury of "The Proud." He reflects on his image as a so-called conscious rapper on "Good to You," and pushes its boundaries on the Cocoa Brovaz collaboration "Gun Music," where he twists the lyrical conventions of dancehall reggae to his own ends. Pharoahe Monch and the Roots' Black Thought put in exciting guest spots on "Guerrilla Monsoon Rap," and Mos Def appears on "Joy," where Kweli manages to describe the births of his two children without getting self-indulgent. A couple of the mellow R&B jams do get a little too mellow for their own good, drifting along and slowing the album's otherwise consistent momentum. Nonetheless, nearly everything Kweli tries works, and the array of producers keeps things unpredictable. Quality is proof that intelligent hip-hop need not lack excitement, soul, or genuine emotion; it's one of the best rap albums of a year with no shortage of winners.