Talib Kweli had a banner year in 2010 with a critically acclaimed release (Reflection Eternal)and pushing his Blacksmith label. He opens 2011 with Gutter Rainbows, an album with many different bands of colors that reflect his many different aspects musically. While it is a clear illustration of his range as an artist, it doesn’t end up as ROYGBIV as it should have been.
The one constant that runs across all parts of his spectrum is his mastery of words. There is an inordinate amount of slick lines and wordplay throughout the album regardless of each song’s rhythm. Kweli bends his phrases and forces his dense lyricism into corners that regular rappers would be unable to fit.
The album suffers, however from stylistic choices, such as the 88-Keys produced intro “After the Rain,” which serves as a mood-setting placeholder but is neither funny nor relevant to the sound and feel of the album. Similar in distraction is Ed Lover’s presence on “I’m On One.” His “Come on Son” shtick is poorly delivered and unfunny, detracting from both the Run DMC-inspired track provided by KHRYSIS and Kweli’s performance.
The title track and first song on the album is coolly produced by M-Phazes with a conga-driven undercurrent. Kweli positions himself as the voice of the downtrodden with images of urban America splash throughout his narrative. That office is furthered on “So Low.” Kweli discusses his commitment to his path in life and Hip-Hop, raging against the machine and against the field, noting that while he does have conscious content and a responsibility as an MC he has his own demons to deal with. Producer Shulo introduces a powerful backdrop with a progressive choral arrangement that builds gravity.
Sean Price and Marco Polo bring the street to the album on “Palookas.” Kweli is planning the future with Fred Hampton Jr. while taking your girl and busting at the cops like Mordachi. Sean P bully raps his way through the verse with sharp lines, his hands in your pockets, his fist in your mouth and a glare that dares you to say something about it.
“Mr. International” features faux D’Angelo crooning and serves as the Blacksmith “Award Tour” while the Kendra Ross- featured “Wait For You” finds an agile Talib flowing over a piano driven hook, punctuated by cymbal clashes and keyboard stabs. The horns on the breaks stay through the second verse and give a jazz, jam session feel that works well.
The old-school Hip-Hop is echoed on “Ain’t Waiting” featuring an Outasight singing on the up tempo track. The track is a lush landscape populated by multiple drums, synth keys; crowded like public housing but efficient in mood conveyance. “Cold Rain” follows with seismic musical shifts that keep the listener off balance and features a Kweli awash in religious allegory and taking society to task for its ills.
“Friends & Family” is a warm addition to the album that opens with kids rapping that recalls lunchroom battles and the innocence of music. Kweli raps through his history and the connections that he’s made in this business that have become close enough to be familial. “Tater Tot” is Talib’s version of “Niggas Bleed,” following the path of an injured veteran who returns home to a tale of bewilderment ,bitches and bullets. “How You Love Me” returns Kweli to the awkward R&B love raps that he lacks the right charisma for.
Jean Grae treats “Uh Oh” like she walked in on the track fucking her best friend. She starts off soft and escalates malevolence with the progressions in the beat, referencing Tyler Durden, strip clubs, beat downs and all kinds of shit supposedly off limits to the fairer sex. It’s all Kweli can do to keep pace lyrically. The jazzy, socially effective “Self Savior” brings the album to a crisp conclusion. The pianos and horns along with the subtle drums allow Kweli to come to grips with his place as a rapper, marrying his style with the substance to which he has become enslaved.
Gutter Rainbows features dope rhymes and good songs but there is no unity of feel musically. Kweli is unhappy with how people have pigeonholed him as conscious and he’s fighting that here, but perhaps he swings too hard with haymakers instead of steady shots. With so many producers, there isn’t an overall feel to the album. There are also a couple songs that detract from the greater whole. These are good songs that shine in their individual light but don’t form the rainbow it intends.
out of 5
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