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Talib Kweli is arguably the most accessible alternative rapper.  Throughout his extensive career, Kweli has had glimmers of mainstream success with songs like “Get By” and “Never Been in Love,” but for the most part he has remained under the casual listener’s radar, while his lyricism has been championed by Hip Hop heads and hipsters alike.  Thus it’s not a surprise that after a spat with Warner Bros over the promotion of his previous two releases [Eardrum (2007) and Revolutions Per Minute w/ Hi-Tek (2010)] the BK emcee branched out and returned to his roots on his latest offering, Gutter Rainbows.

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Gutter Rainbows features production from some of the most reputable names in the underground such as Ski Beatz, Marco Polo, KHRYSIS, Shuko, M-Phazes, and Oh No, making it an independent tour de force.  Flutes blare in harmony on the 88 Keys produced opener, “After the Rain.”  The fact that Talib’s vocals have no say on the track doesn’t take away from the album by any means; however the beat seems wasted on a veritable intro.  All doubts are set aside when Talib blasts through the larger-than-life soundscape of M-Phazes production on the title track, “Gutter Rainbows.”  A myriad a horns and synths rest upon a brilliant layer of percussions as Talib delivers hard-hitting lyrics like “living with death, smoking blunts with the grim reaper/snitch n*ggas known to blow the whistle like a gym teacher.”  “Gutter Rainbows” is easily one of the more memorable songs in Talib’s solo discography.  Talib follows this achievement with an introspective examination of his character on the Res-assisted “So Low.”  Opening “So Low” declaring, “I’m still flirting with death, although I’m still certain/about my commitment to life, although I’m still searching,Talib sounds just as uncertain as he is confident in own his existence.   Emotions continue to run high on Gutter Rainbows, although Talib lets them take a backseat and jumps into the essence of pure Hip Hop on “Palookas.”  The aforementioned track is genuinely enjoyable, if not for Marco Polo’s instrumental, nor Talib’s magnificent flow, then for Sean Price’s gutter cameo.

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S1 (Kanye West “Power”) makes his first production placement on the more poppy, “Mr. International.”  By no means is this song lackluster; in fact it’s inspiration to a certain extent.  Yet, the song somewhat gets buried beneath the more rugged cuts on Gutter Water.  One such track is “I’m On One,” which features Talib delivering a barrage of lyrical lashings over old-school beat courtesy of KHRYSISKweli remains ever so impressive on the mic with lines like “You might have heard of me/producers got restraining orders – I murder beats/state of emergency like Dudus Coke/you hate it but you love it though/we smoke and roll one up a double Dutch, but I ain’t jumping rope.”  S1 returns for “Wait For You” which is much in the same vein as “Mr. International” in the sense that it’s quite smooth and contains an off-rhythm drumbreak.  This leads into the forgettable “Ain’t Waiting.”  The song is far too upbeat and cheerful and mostly unbecoming of Talib Kweli.  On the track, Kweli praises the one he loves, which we can only assume is DJ Eque.

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Gutter Rainbows gets back on the right path under the helm of Ski Beatz’ pianos on “Cold Rain,” which has all the makings of a vintage Kweli track.  “Friends and Family” is another standout track Kweli’s narrating ability.  On the track, Kweli reflects on everything from dropping out of college, to befriending Dave Chappelle, to touring with Kanye West and how he would not stop rapping on their tour bus. The additional vocals on the hook of “Friends and Family” are unremarkable, although the production and lyrics render it nearly unnoticeable.  The oddly-titled “Tater Tot” is another testament to the Black Star emcee’s story telling ability, as he tells the tale of an army veteran who finds himself in the midst of a Vegas motel shoot-out.  “How You Love Me” is reason enough that “Ain’t Waiting” should have been omitted from the track list, as it’s basically the same concept and better executed.  Jean Grae stops in to lay down a verse on “Uh Oh” which goes over fairly well.  Gutter Rainbows closes on the high-note with the smooth jazz stylings of “Self Savior” featuring Chace Infinite.

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Thirteen years after putting his name on the map as a member of Black Star alongside Mos Def, Talib Kweli is able to prove that he hasn’t lost a step with Gutter Rainbows.  Although the album is leaps and bounds beyond projects released by his respective peers, there are blunders to Kweli’s format.  Talib seems a little too eager to please everyone and shows a softer side on tracks like “Wait For You” and “Ain’t Waiting,” which are passable at best.  It would be in Kweli’s best interest to enlist more boom-bap oriented producers into his repertoire and focus on his lyrics rather than ploys to seem relatable.  Nevertheless, Gutter Rainbows drowns out a majority of mainstream rap releases and shines as radiantly as the sun following a storm.

4mics

4.0/5

  • Klazk

    Takes a little away from the review when you use the wrong album title in the closing sentence.