Alternative rapper Talib Kweli’s Gutter Rainbows displays the best qualities his subgenre has to offer. The lyrical flow is fast-paced, the message isn’t overly materialistic, the production is heavily inspired by neo-soul, and Kweli’s attitude is, as he puts it, “cool like Fonzie.”
Throughout Gutter Rainbows, Kweli touches on the usual plight of today’s rapper. On “Wait For You,” he acknowledges the fine line between writing a profitable album and being labelled a sellout, but judging by his highbrow literary references—including Vonnegut and Voltaire—he has no intention of going pop (but warns that he could if he wanted to). His pedigree gives him some deserved elbowroom to pimp his wealth in “Mr. International” and “Ain’t Waiting,” both of which have enough soul to silence any conscious hip-hop purists. However, the swagger-heavy battle songs (“Palookas” and “Uh Oh”) aren’t as abrasive as they could be, and Kweli awkwardly shoehorns syllables into his lines on more than one occasion.
Kweli’s own words say it best: “My style married my substance and now they’re living in harmony.” He accepts his minor role in the rap game, uses positive lyrics, flirts with political topics, and thanks his fans for their dedication. His style is always intelligent, rarely preachy, and never militant. In a genre that too often has lyrical viciousness akin to Malcolm X, he’s more of a Martin Luther King Jr. Or maybe just a Fonz.