“Gutter Rainbows,” the newest release by Brooklyn-based MC Talib Kweli, once again has the artist catering to his already established and dedicated fan base. With an album consisting of familiar subject matter and Kweli’s constant social awareness, “Gutter Rainbows” continues to utilize the same formula that the artist has relied upon during his entire sixteen-year career.
Throughout “Gutter Rainbows,” Kweli lets the listener know that the new breed of disposable commercial hip-hop artists simply cannot compare to him in both style and lyrical substance. It’s a claim that surely has the evidence to support it: in 1998 Kweli and fellow rapper Mos Def released “Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star” to nearly universal critical praise, establishing both artists’ solo careers and propelling the conscious hip-hop genre into a constant presence within the world of hip-hop.
The “Black Star” album was revolutionary at the time of its release. It served as a perfect counterbalance to the top commercial hip-hop artists of that year, such as Master P and DMX; those artists were concerned more with overbearing chauvinism and declarations of wealth in their music than engaging in any sort of dialogue between themselves and the audience.
The dialogue established 13 years ago between Kweli and his audience has consisted of the same message of perseverance with every release, but the question has to be asked: Is anyone listening? It’s not clear if his constant, sometimes arrogant, message on tracks like “Gutter Flowers” standout “Palookas” mean anything to the overall rap and hip-hop audience: “We bring the drums to the battle ’cause we bang the loudest/You don’t know a thing about it, if you mention King or Malcolm bet you that Kweli the outcome.”
It’s a powerfully visual message, evoking a wide range of emotions, but it’s also a message that has been present in nearly every album the artist has released.
Clearly, Kweli is a talented and intelligent wordsmith who deserves accolades for his constant ability to provide an alternative for listeners weary of the excesses of mainstream hip-hop. But sixteen years is a long time for any career. The lack of creative evolution in his work, aside from the more commercially oriented 2007 release “Eardrum,” is disheartening to hear from someone as passionate about his message as Kweli. An evolution has to happen for Kweli’s work to reach a new level of relevancy, but it simply isn’t happening in “Gutter Flowers.”