Talib Kweli has enjoyed a large amount of success without the larger-than-life egos of some of his more well known contemporaries. And where even the most respected of the second tier, the "indie" rappers, have rolled with some questionable material, Kweli has kept it consistent throughout his solo career. Luckily, his first truly independent record is no different; Gutter Rainbows
, is full of chunky beats and beautiful lyricism delivered in a flow that no other rapper could imitate, even if they tried.
While most rhyme-smiths focus on how tough they are, or who they've put a bullet in, Talib injects his stories with a healthy dose of love and hope ("hope for the hopeless") alongside his highlighting of the issues with the street. His word cloud is strikingly different than most of his contemporaries, full of words like "promise" (and not "promise to murder your face"). And his beats, while not all the knock-out fanfare of Kanye, all seem bombastic enough to ride side-by-side with his impeccable flow.
You can tell Kweli has a specific taste for a specific style; his best work is always some sort of funk/soul fusion, like "Ain't Waiting". This isn't much of a surprise; anyone familiar with Kweli knows that this kind of beat is more or less his calling card, dating back to the days of Blackstar and Mos Def. Luckily, like most of his work, you can jump into Gutter Rainbows
a Talib newbie and come out just as satisfied — the mark of an aesthetically talented rapper. Missing half the references makes no difference, we could listen to Kweli's voice spit nothing but nonsense words for hours.
Talib's timbre is instantly recognizable, and in most rap circles today, already iconic. Like Hov's swag or Weezy's scuzz, Talib has a specific way of fitting his words together that is undeniably unique. But unlike many others, Talib is a positively charged artist, trading explicit drugs and violence mentions for tales of getting by and doing it for the kids. He's the quintessential optimistic rapper. Only Kweli could include a song called "Friends and Family" (about what's really important), and have it be serious, and be taken seriously. Even the album's title, Gutter Rainbows
, is Kweli's own poetic inversion of the grim realities of other rapper's narratives. The voice of the voiceless describing their hood, as a troubled place, but a hopeful one. Idealism isn't always welcome in hip-hop, but Talib makes it sound like a match made anywhere but the gutter.
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MP3: "Ain't Waiting"
Talib Kweli on Myspace