Talib Kweli – Gutter Rainbows | Album Review

Every now and again, a reality check is needed within Hip Hop. Although the new trends in the format are welcomed, sometimes just going back to the basics of raw rhymes and traditional beats is required. Step forward to the mic Mr Talib Kweli, a rapper highly revered by Jay-Z and Kanye West (if you require a co-sign before checking him out).

Possessing profound lyrical dexterity since his inception back in 1997, Kweli remains at the forefront of a movement which updates the classic Hip Hop formula rather than reinventing it. The question is; how will Gutter Rainbows fare amongst the emo rap, nine-minute compositions and the usual over inflated braggadocio?

From its satire laced intro, there is an assurance the the Brooklyn rhymeslayer is here to promote the ‘realness’. The first track ‘Gutter Rainbows’ is saturated with ’70s spirit and, as expected, Kweli drops raps on the everyday grim social issues with passion. ‘So Low’ is immersed with much pain and despair in its gospel-like production, but like a Sunday preacher, Talib’s encouraging verses are soothing to the mournful Shuko produced instrumental.

Remaining one of the most proficient lyrical social commentators, Kweli’s lyrics evoke much emotion and genuine care, which makes every verse (in which he addresses issues) the more convincing. Whilst an abundance of past and present emcees have donned the conscious thinking cap, Kweli today still remains one of the best. It’s his skill to marry thoughtful stories with his gift with words, which creates epic records, such as ‘Tater Tots’ playing the role of an ex-soldier disillusioned with life after the army. Production is handled by an array of talented (and somewhat slept-on) beatmakers, yet they all manage to arrange some of the hardest, emotive and true to the vintage sounds of Hip Hop.

When looking for the amped, raw sound, two tracks immediately spring to mind. ‘I’m On One’ (which is introduced by radio DJ Ed Lover) captures the raucous crowd witnessing a Hip Hop cypher as Kweli gives a lesson to the “doo-doo ass” rappers on lyrical supremacy.

The second track, ‘Palookas’, resembles a TV crime theme, yet the exhilarating shrieks from producer Marco Polo’s vintage sound is given further weight with the crashing, pulverising beat it accompanies. But it’s the guest verse from Sean Price which steals the track as his bully bars demolish everything in its path.

It’s not all weighty bars and reflective thinking. Talib Kweli also offers some exceptionally good vibes on the tracks ‘Mr International’ and ‘I Ain’t Waiting’ – both offering slick finger snapping, tracks to break up the seriousness. Add to that the exceptional ‘Uh Oh’ (in which featured artist Jean Grae restores some faith in the idea of a dope female MC existing) and you have a near complete album. Although ‘How You Love Me’ irritatingly sounds like a 50 Cent record, that does little to dent the exceptional work on Gutter Rainbows.

Arguably his finest work as a solo artist (Black Star and Reflection Eternal being collaborative side projects) Talib Kweli gave fans a full helping of everything which makes him one of the most respected emcees today. Still lyrically immense, Talib rose empirically amongst a brilliant soundtrack to inspire, entertain and school all who partook in the 50 minute listening experience. Further proof that there is still room for ‘conscious Hip Hop’ in 2011, Gutter Rainbows arguably is the first entrant into the list of the top ten albums of the year.

Gutter Rainbows is out January 25 in the US [Jan 31st in the UK] via Javotti Media/3D; purchase from iTunes or Amazon US / UK.

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