Jay-Z once rapped 'If skills sold/ Truth be told/ I’d probably be lyrically/ Talib Kweli.' Praise from Caesar indeed. It’s always a breath of fresh air when Kweli releases any new record.

There are so many things unfortunate about the term ‘conscious hip-hop’, yet his brand of indie intellectualism has always set him apart in a field that every year becomes more and more saturated. The man quoted as being Kanye West’s favourite rapper has never really lived up to his collaborations with Mos Def in 1998 as Blackstar, and with Hi-Tek as Reflection Internal in 2000, but the genre always makes space for him.

The first half of Gutter Rainbows is still living on the type of power soul and funk samples that gave his last album Eardrum its sound. It’s pretty routine stuff until six songs in ’I’m On One’ takes the tone to a dark-cellar rap battle. ‘Uh Oh’ and ‘Tater Tot’, in which he sounds eerily like Nas, echo the same sentiment, while ‘Friends and Family’ is an upbeat dedication to the 35-year-old’s industry friends, heroes and influences.

Don’t look for catchy hooks or anything you can dance to on Gutter Rainbows. It’s not for lack of trying, but such misguided attempts in the production don’t land. As per usual for Kweli’s work, it’s words; not sounds that drive the record.

This is a solid release, but it’s also a critical crossroad for Kweli. He’s stuck between mainstream stardom and the indie-hop that he has made his own and mainstream stardom. Whether he could even make the transition into the latter is another question altogether. Yes, it has its share of clichés and caricatures, but hip-hop is a deceptively fluid and adaptable genre.

However, even the best music begins to sound dated just a few years after its release. Unfortunately for Kweli, he is so grounded in such a specific brand of hip-hop that he suffers from this more than most. Similarly conscious peers Mos Def and Common have worked hard in striking the balance, but it really is true that you can’t teach an old dawg new tricks. He could always do a track with Nicki Minaj, though.