Album review: Talib Kweli’s ‘Gutter Rainbows’

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One of rap’s oldest truisms is that great albums are the results of one producer with one rapper. Whether it’s Guru and Premier, Rakim and Eric B. or Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, all but the most versatile rhymers usually bond best with a particular style and sound.

A decade and half deep into a storied career, Brooklyn’s Talib Kweli falls into this category. Collaborations with Kanye West, Just Blaze and Madlib have all yielded critical and commercial success, but his most poignant material always comes in concert with the Cincinnati-bred Hi-Tek. Whether it’s the 2000 classic “Train of Thought,” last year’s rock-solid comeback “Revolutions Per Minute,” or even the 2007 one-off “Time,” Hi-Tek’s elegiac beats not only adhere perfectly to Kweli’s adenoidal double-time flow, but their plaintive nature brings out his most poignant and introspective writing.

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.


—Jeff Weiss

Talib Kweli
“Gutter Rainbows”
Javotti Media/3D
Two and a half stars (Out of four)