Conscious rappers don't age well and Gutter Rainbows, Talib Kweli's fifth solo album, doesn't shake this preconception. Fresh off last year's solid Reflection Eternal reunion, Kweli is largely on autopilot over terrycloth production and soft batch R&B choruses; the best songs here energize Kweli by linking him with hard beats. "Tater Tot" is a compelling audio cinematic about an Iraq veteran, while Marco Polo's swirling strings and trumpets on "Palookas" set up fierce spitting from Talib and Sean Price. Kwe flows lovely on "I'm On One," Khrysis's beat rolling and knocking like '80s Brooklyn. Kweli and Jean Grae connect for verbal manslaughter over the ominous organ rolls and bumping bass of "Uh Oh." The warm, sincere "Friends and Family" sees Kweli warmly reflecting on his rap career thus far. Treat Gutter Rainbows as a dry run for Prisoner of Conscious, his next studio album, and it goes down much easier.
You've chosen to release this album in digital format in North America. Why?
The CD is a dead format, but I still want my next release to benefit from the strong sales of Eardrum. As a smaller project, the sales for Gutter Rainbows will ultimately be smaller.
How does your writing process for this album differ from your writing for Reflection Eternal?
Reflection Eternal are collaborative with Hi-Tek; this is a singular vision. There are things I can't do in RE that I can do here.
Why did you name the album Gutter Rainbows?
Gutter Rainbows is a metaphor for inner-city living. When you live this way, you have to find beauty in places where there is none, like Brooklyn. It's another way to say a rose grows from the concrete or a tree grows in Brooklyn, or beautiful struggle.
What do you look for in a beat?
I look for passion, honesty, musicality and freedom.
What do you consider your best verse and why?
Probably my first verse to "Lonely People"; it's great writing. It's layered; it's personal; and my flow is right. (Duck Down)