The fact that Talib Kweli is one of the best rappers of his generation, hell, of all time, is indisputable. At this point, 15 years into his career, you know you’re gonna get top-flight lyricism from a Kweli album. The variable is usually the production, as I learned following his subpar 2005 indie mixtape Right About Now. As legends like KRS & Rakim have proven, dope lyrics + mediocre beats doesn’t usually equal hot records. With Kweli again going the indie route for Gutter Rainbows (following 2007’s excellent Ear Drum), I was worried that the problems that befell Right About Now would rear their heads again, although shitty production is not exclusive to indie offerings-last year’s mediocre Reflection Eternal reunion album proved that.

Were my fears unfounded? Yes and no. Gutter Rainbows is not as good as Ear Drum, but it’s not a throwaway either. Kweli is worth hearing at least so followers of today’s emcees can hear what a real rapping sounds like. Topically, you’ve heard most of it before-social commentary, some bragging, and that streak of self-righteousness that get a little more hard to take with each passing album. Coupled with inconsistent production (“Friends & Family” is a great song with horrid production and a terrible hook), it’s tempting to pass this one by, but hearing Kweli flow playfully on songs like “Mr. International” or experiencing the dizzying narrative on “Tater Tot” makes the less-than-stellar moments on here go down a little easier.

Verdict: Great emcee, so-so production. Worth a spin.

Grade: B

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