Talib Kweli - Gutter Rainbows
Record Label: Blacksmith Music
Release Date: January 25, 2011
Even in a genre as saturated as hip-hop, artists like Talib Kweli are a rare commodity. A self-proclaimed voice for the voiceless, Kweli uses his fantastic rhythm and impeccable writing skills to deliver socially conscious messages that shine a spotlight on issues that are still overlooked. Unfortunately, he's also fallen into an odd niche. His storied career, including collaborations with Mos Def and DJ Hi-Tek as the respective duos Black Star and Reflection Eternal, is full of albums heaped with critical acclaim. But even then he's never been able to achieve the mainstream success other, arguably less-skilled rappers have fallen into. In his earlier releases, that didn't seem like that big of a deal. He kept true to himself and made the music he wanted to make instead of following the herd. While a change in his style would have been understandable, it speaks volumes about his character that he's never strayed from the path he set before himself at the beginning of his career.
That being said, Gutter Rainbows may be the most accessible and varied album in his discography. Much of that comes from the wide range of producers he gathered to help him put the album together. With the exception of Symbolyc One, who produced two separate tracks on the album, every song was arranged by a different producer. Because of this, every song brings something new to the table. Sleep on just one track, and you'll end up missing what makes the song unique from it's siblings. Even with all this behind him, Kweli remained true to his mission. This is, without a doubt, a Talib Kweli album.
The one fault Gutter Rainbows carries is the fact that it's incredibly bottom heavy. While the songs near the beginning are far from terrible, they are completely outshined by what comes later. One huge exception is the title track, produced by Australian hip-hop producer M-Phazes. This track is a huge statement from Kweli himself about the state of the hip-hop scene and his place in it. Any rapper can say he's more passionate than the next guy, but Kweli's delivery of each and every line attests to that fact. Laid atop huge instrumentation and tribal drums, the track lives up to the responsibility of being the title track and is a great introduction to the rest of the album.
Immediately following is a track titled “So Low.” The lyrics make allusions to Greek allegory as Kweli explains that problems often seem bigger than they actually are. Gospel organs form the basis of the production, and the song flows incredibly with Kweli's immaculate rhyming skills. He seems to have embraced his place in the scene as an underdog as he disses celebrities and praises those who set out on their own path like he has. Although it paints bleak view on the scene in general, the overall message of the song is full of hope and inspiration.
A huge component of Gutter Rainbows' endgame is a huge trio of songs that form the best part of the album. The triumvirate begins with “Ain't Waiting,” a fun track about chasing a girl and imagining a future with her. Kweli makes reference to fairy tales as he details his experiences with the girl over production that's very keyboard and cymbal heavy. “Ain't Waiting” does a good job of showing a different side of Kweli on the album, it's bouncy nature contrasting a bit with the serious tone carried but many of the other tracks.
Part two is the album's first single, “Cold Rain.” Featuring amazing production from the one and only Ski Beatz, “Cold Rain” is a mixture of gritty verses and uplifting, gospel-inspired choruses that form a beautiful balance. The piano melody in particular is catchy without overpowering the rest of the track, unsurprising with the knowledge of who's behind its creation. Kweli's lyrics go for broke as he acknowledges he isn't going to live forever. He makes it clear that reform is a weight everyone has to shoulder if things are ever going to change, and that we need to focus on the present instead of hoping that future generations make a difference.
Rounding out the trio is “Friends & Family,” where Kweli looks back to his past. The lyrics are full of name drops, but Kweli felt that it was important to give a shout out to the people who helped him get where he is, the people that were there for him when he was just starting out. The production doesn't do anything flashy or spectacular, but it gets the job done with a small horn section and smooth piano chords. Like I said before, any person can say thank you without any meaning behind the words, but Kweli's emotional inflections give credence to his lyrics. The song fades slowly at the end as Kweli continues to speak, a subtle hint that his career is far from over.
Talib Kweli. I don't know how much more there is to say about the artist that hasn't been said already. He's put in work for a little over a decade, releasing album after album of intelligent hip-hop that's unfortunately become a rare beast. His latest album continues this trend, while at the same time providing accessible production that hopefully entices a whole new generation. While it may be a bit bottom heavy, Gutter Rainbows is full to the brim with what makes Kweli's albums astounding experiences. Those experiences are hard to replicate, and a huge part of the reason Talib Kweli will forever be regarded as one of the best in the game.
good review. this is the first talib kweli solo album i like most to all the way through. quality is up there, but beautiful struggle and ear drum are boring as hell. loving the production on this record too.
talib's best in collab. black star and reflection eternal >