The Score: Talib Kweli, "Gutter Rainbows"

Tuesday, Jan 25, 2011 2:10PM

Written by J. Bachelor

Buy Now
  • Gutter Rainbows
  • Talib Kweli
  • January 25, 2011
Soul Culture 4.5/5
LA Times 2.5/5
Planet Ill 3.5/5
iHip Hop 4/5
Sputnik Music 3.5/5

Talib Kweli returns to music shelves today with the release of Gutter Rainbows, his first solo disc since 2007's Eardrum.

Kweli, known for his collaborative work with rapper/actor Mos Def and rapper/producer Hi-Tek, released Gutter Rainbows on his own imprint, Blacksmith Music.

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. 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. (Planet Ill)

 Kweli shared pieces of his Rainbow with a few underground spitters, most noticeably his protégé, raptress Jean Grae.

Talib brings his artist Jean Grae to the mix for Uh-Oh, produced by Oh No, this will no doubt be in the iPod of every backpacker. Spitting through violent organs and strings, Jean Grae shines hard on the track; "Psychopath/ Ride a tricycle in a bikers club/ Mike Tyson face tatted addict like you like it rough/ Hey scatter brain don't get your grey matter punched up/ Till you hunched up talking like you punch drunk." (Yo! Raps Magazine)

Several noteworthy producers were called upon to create the album's gutter sound.

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."  (iHip Hop)

According to Kweli, the album's title track is not only a salute to classic American literature, but an ode to his New York City roots as well.

"Gutter Rainbows", the self-titled album's inspiration, an upbeat vibe depicting the hardships of Kweli's Brooklyn life, and his journey to find his own silver lining. Keeping with the theme, "Gutter Rainbows" flows peacefully into the soulful instrumental "So Low" in which Kweli breaks out of 'artistic prison' and embraces changes within his own little universe. The album's title stems from Kweli's fascination with J. D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye, in which the main character references gasoline rainbows in New York City; finding the beautiful in the grotesque. In an interview with XXL Magazine, Kweli explained that when he was a child growing up in "the hood", he found beauty in "the rainbows that you see when the oil and the water mix in the gutter". (Live Music Guide)

Critics viewed Gutter Rainbows as another solid effort from the Brooklyn MC, yet felt the LP failed to distinguish Kweli's artistic diversity from his previous work.

At the end of the day Gutter Rainbows is more of the same for Talib Kweli. Another solid entry into his impressive solo career (even though it fails to hit the highs made by Quality), it'll do everything it's meant to do, which is appease Talib's fervent fan base, but nothing else. Whether or not that's his intention will remain to be seen, but for a man who's flirted with the mainstream (or to be fair, watch the mainstream cast an easy eye over him) it's a little disconcerting to see Talib not pushing things just a little further. For the most part he hits everything perfectly, and the who's who of guest producers all work their magic to varying degrees, but there are little moments here and there where everything just feels a little empty. (Sputnik News)
Cobbled together from a babel of veteran underground producers, "Gutter Rainbows" feels rote. There are high points -- most notably, the post-traumatic stress romance, "Tator Tots," and the Ski Beatz-produced soul workout, "Cold Rain." Too often he relies on inflexible rhyme schemes and self-congratulatory similes ("I'm lying like Pinocchio...I'm a freedom fighter like Voltaire.") One hook ("Friends and Family") lazily repeats, "Nothing else matters more than friends and family."Accordingly, "Gutter Rainbows" too often feels like an unfulfilled promise -- an excess of concrete and not enough vibrancy. (LA Times Blog)

To purchase Gutter Rainbows, just click here.

Preview music from Gutter Rainbows below:

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