Talib Kweli has had an illustrious career. It all began back in 1998 when he teamed up with Mos Def to form the group Black Star, and the duo then proceeded to release the classic Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star. Two years later, Talib joined forces with producer Hi-Tek to form Reflection Eternal, dropping yet another classic record in Train Of Thought.
In 2002, Kweli went off on his own for the first time in his career, releasing Quality, an album that many feel is his best solo work. Since then, he has put out three more solo LPs (including the one I am about to review) to go along with countless mixtapes and collaboration albums (including Reflection Eternal's bust of a second project, Revolutions Per Minute [released in '10], which I am sure I will get around to reviewing at some point), building an extraordinarily impressive (if not legendary) resumé that few other artists can match.
Most importantly, outside of his hiccup with Hi-Tek on Revolutions Per Minute, Talib Kweli has never put out a whack product (although some, myself not included, find his sophomore solo album, The Beautiful Struggle, to be somewhat on the "whack" side); the dude is extremely consistent. He is an outstanding lyricist, both creative and relative to the common man, and, generally, has a great ear for beats.
So, eight months after he and Hi-Tek put out Reflection Eternal's second album, Talib returns with Gutter Rainbows, a project that, at the very least, should be a candidate for having the best album artwork of the year. The question is, though, will it be in contention for being the actual album of the year? Let's find out.
1. After The Rain
A pretty stupid album intro.
2. Gutter Rainbows
You rarely see an album's title track so early in an album's sequencing, but, nevertheless, here is "Gutter Rainbows." M-Phazes' beat possesses an upbeat feel, but it's nothing more than average overall. Like usual, Talib's flow is on point, but I came away with this song with a "meh" reaction.
3. So Low
The first thing I noticed about Shuko's beat is that the kick drums bang. Unfortunately, that was pretty much the only thing I noticed about this track. It isn't bad; it just isn't very memorable.
I love Kweli's "you can't stop me like the bullets that's inside of 50" line, and Marco Polo's beat is pretty damn sick. However, the best part about this track is Sean Price, who drops a guest verse. It's certainly not one of his better performances, but it's not very often you hear Sean P nowadays, so when you get the opportunity, you have to soak it in. This is the best song on Gutter Rainbows, and it isn't even up for debate.
5. Mr. International
Call me crazy, but I actually like this a lot. Even though S1's bouncy beat sounds like it belongs on Revolutions Per Minute (and no; that is not a good thing), Talib manages to make it work, and Nigel Hall does a great job on the hook.
6. I'm On One
My man Khrysis is on the boards here, and while he does not come with any Monkey Barz-type heat, his beat is still solid, and Kweli sounds decent over it. I don't really have much else to add.
7. Wait For You
Who would have thought some guy named S1 would produce the most records on this album? After laying down a solid instrumental for Talib on "Mr. International," he returns with a mediocre beat on "Wait For You." I do like the jazzy, laid-back atmosphere, but overall, this song is pretty boring.
8. Ain't Waiting
6th Sense laces a beat fairly similar to S1's production on "Mr. International," except it's quite a bit busier. It definitely brings a significant amount of energy, but the fact that Talib doesn't actually start rapping until the 1:22 mark takes some of that momentum away. Also, Outasight's hook is incredibly lame, and it surfaces far too much. The thing is, Kweli sounds really good over this, but it feels like he only raps three bars (even though he obviously raps a lot more than that). This cut could have been so much better.
9. Cold Rain
Ski Beatz, an underground legend and the producer of Camp Lo's highly-regarded Uptown Saturday Night, puts down a very underwhelming beat for Talib on this. Booooring...
10. Friends & Family
I like this. E. Jones produces a solid beat that contains a nostalgic feel, and Talib sounds right at home over it. However, the uncredited singer on the hook sounds incredibly corny, both in terms of his voice and his lyrics. "Nothing else matters more than friends and family"? Seriously? Whatever. Compared to the rest of Gutter Rainbows (which is turning out to be a pretty big disappointment), this track is a breath of fresh air.
11. Tater Tot
Nick Speed's beat is decent, although the choppy vocal sample in the background is just annoying. Talib comes through with an impressive performance, though, and the song's ending is pretty interesting, as Kweli's girl ends up shooting him. That said, there is nothing ground-breaking here.
12. How You Love Me
This is one of the best tracks on the album; easily. Blaq Toven both produces the beat and does the hook, and he does an admirable job on both accounts. The drums knock, and Talib Kweli spends the record talking about...you guessed it; love, a topic Talib always manages to cover very effectively.
13. Uh Oh
Madlib's brother, Oh No, produces a beat that is unquestionably one of Gutter Rainbows' best on "Uh Oh," and female guest rapper Jean Grae adopts Talib's flow and imitates it very well. Of course, the real thing is always better, as Kweli puts forth a masterful performance. Really nice cut.
14. Self Savior
Okay; I wanna know who the hell Chace Infinite is and why he hasn't gotten more burn, because he rips this track and severely outshines Talib. Maurice Brown's beat is incredibly boring, but, thankfully, Chace's performance helps relieve the overall blandness of it...a little. This might sound weird, but the dude sounds like a combination of Jay-Z and Cappadonna...and maybe some Brother Ali, too. Anyway, as far as the song itself goes? Mehhhh.
I hate to say it because Talib Kweli is one of my favorite artists, but Gutter Rainbows isn't very good; at all. It's just one giant pile of mediocrity. The production is, for the most part, very bland, and Talib doesn't do anything spectacular that makes you say, "damn." He still sounds good and proves he can still rip tracks, but it just sounds like more of the same to me.
A very significant part of the problem on Gutter Rainbows is Kweli's choice of producers. I mean, I don't see how him of all people can go through an entire 14-track project without having at least one song produced by Hi-Tek. Instead, he decides to enlist a lot of no-namers who drop some insipid beats that don't even scratch the surface of interesting.
There was only one song that really, really stood out on this album: "Palookas." That's it. There were some other nice cuts, but they pale in comparison to Talib's best work, giving Gutter Rainbows very little (if any) replay value. Believe me; you will find yourself skipping a good majority of the records on here (although I'll be kind in the "skippable tracks" portion of the review) if you, for some inexplicable reason, decide to give this album a second listen.
Now it's time to bump Train Of Thought to erase the horrible aftertaste (yeah; I don't know) of Gutter Rainbows.
Oh, and remember when I said that Talib Kweli has never put out a whack product? Well, ta-da!
TOP FIVE TRACKS
2. How You Love Me
3. Uh Oh
4. Mr. International
5. Friends & Family