Talib Kweli: Gutter Rainbows
R&B & Hip-Hop
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.