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Talib Kweli - Gutter Rainbows Album Cover
Author's Rating
Vocals 9
Musicianship 8.5
Lyrics 9.5
Production 8.75
Creativity 7.5
Lasting Value 8
Reviewer Tilt 9
Final Verdict: 86%
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Talib Kweli - Gutter Rainbows

Reviewed by: Ian Walker (01/28/11)
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.

Track Listing1. After The Rain (produced by 88-Keys)
2. Gutter Rainbows (produced by M-Phazes)
3. So Low (produced by Shuko)
4. Palookas feat. Sean Price (produced by Marco Polo)
5. Mr. International feat. Nigel Hall (produced by S1)
6. I’m On One (produced by KHRYSIS!)
7. Wait For You feat. Kendra Ross (produced by S1)
8. Ain’t Waiting feat. Outasight (produced by 6th sense)
9. Cold Rain (produced by Ski Beatz)
10. Friends & Family (produced by E. Jones)
11. Tater Tot (produced by Nick Speed)
12. How You Love Me feat. Blaq Toven (produced by Blaq Toven)
13. Uh Oh feat. Jean Grae (produced by Oh No)
14. Self Savior feat. Chace Infinite (produced by Maurice Brown)

iTunes Bonus Tracks15. How You Love Me feat. Blaq Toven (produced by Blaq Toven)
16. Go Now feat. Iron Solomon and Jean Grae (produced by Drum Dreamers and Patrick Mathore)

Amazon Bonus Track17. GMB

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Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 15
06:21 AM on 01/29/11
Ryan Gardner
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Ryan Gardner's Avatar
Another great review Ian. I need to give this record a few more spins.
06:30 AM on 01/29/11
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*Ro''s Avatar
Very disappointed, didn't find what made me love him in all of his past records.
11:19 AM on 01/29/11
save the drama for wilmer valderama
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weworemasks's Avatar
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 >
11:20 AM on 01/31/11
here to rock
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No Avatar Selected
i dont usuaslly get into hip hop not since the first 3 6 mafia hit but this is a great one! 5 stars
11:39 AM on 01/31/11
Registered User
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Momo32T's Avatar
I haven't listened to anything he has put out since The Beautiful Struggle. I am with most people who say Black Star was the best thing he ever did.
12:23 PM on 01/31/11
there's a lot of beauty, sometimes
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yellowhouse's Avatar
Awesome. I didn't even know he was putting out an album. Will check it out.
12:50 PM on 01/31/11
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CastlesXClouds's Avatar
fucking stoked.
12:57 PM on 01/31/11
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incognitojones's Avatar
It was solid, Talib hasn't really released anything that wasn't good.
01:19 PM on 01/31/11
I would make tits more sense
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HaileyItHappens's Avatar
It's so good.
01:19 PM on 01/31/11
The World Is Yours
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3eb23's Avatar
i'm loving friends and family right now
03:47 PM on 01/31/11
punk shawn
sees Blue. He looks glorious!
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punk shawn's Avatar
solid album. it will surely land on my best of 2011 list.
04:46 AM on 02/01/11
Wondrous Oblivion.
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No Avatar Selected
It was solid, Talib hasn't really released anything that wasn't good.
That's what I came here to say.
10:55 AM on 02/06/11
Close Your Eyes to See
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ToUsFools's Avatar
He's the best rapper of the 00's.
10:43 PM on 04/12/11
The All-New 2014 Corolla
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CircaSin's Avatar
Kweli always delivers legit hip-hop. Copped this on vinyl.
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