By the time Gutter Rainbows came out, hip hop was entrenched enough that it had spurred a vibrant alternative hip hop scene. Talib Kweli's fourth album hit #7 on the Billboard Hip Hop and R&B Chart,and #4 on tier Independent Albums list. Many reviewers at the time noted that this album was a departure from Kweli's conscious work into more mainstream hip hop, and considered it a potentially pivotal album.
The album was originally going to be a digital-only completely independent release, which is a common path now, but innovative at the time. However, a partnership with Duck Down Records made a January 25, 2011 CD release happen. The next month, a multi-color swirl vinyl edition was added to the release. In the end, it made for a wider distribution, and helped an album that would otherwise be invisible to conventional count downs make it into the top 10 on the charts.
But, how does Gutter Rainbows hold up on the 10th anniversary of its release? On the whole, pretty well. The 14 track album clocks in at a slim 49 minutes, so even some of the tracks that don't work as well don't overstay their welcome. But most of all, it hangs together as a cohesive album, an increasingly rare thing when digital playlists dominate most people's listening habits.
It's hard to pick a favorite track. Kweli only rarely sacrifices rhythm and flow for clever lyrics (which is one of his occasional faults as a rapper). A few tracks stand out as unusual. "Mr. International" is a gesture toward a mainstream evolution that never really fully materialized. The danceable "Ain't Waiting" would fit well on any club playlist. He does fall into bad old habits in the album's one single, "Cold Rain," with wordy verses that just don't flow. It was an odd choice for a single on an album that offered far better choices.
If this is one that's fallen out of your rotation in the last decade, that's understandable. But, if you haven't given it a spin in awhile, it's definitely worth a listen.