Gutter Rainbows

On 2007's Eardrum, alt-rap hero Talib Kweli teamed with big-name producers (will.i.am) and fancy guest stars (Justin Timberlake), hiking his backpack all the way up to Number Two on the album charts. But Kweli's flirtation with the mainstream is over. Gutter Rainbows is unabashed conscious-rap classicism, with a luscious, string-swamped soul sound and rhymes that tout the MC's left-of-center cred. ("This ain't fashion-rap/I'm bringing the passion back.") Kweli's rhyming is skillful but can be dull; he's at his best when he tells stories: the U.S. Army veteran's travails in "Tater Tot," and the life-on-the-road narrative "Mr. International," in which Kweli, like the good conscious MC that he is, boasts not about riches or rims, but his PDA. "Don't be mad," he raps, "'cause I'm writing this rhyme on my iPad."

Listen to "Mr. International":

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