Many casual fans of pop music fail to understand that there's no shame in being a one-hit wonder. For example, Chuck Berry's only number one was "My Dingaling," a song really in no way representative of the Rock pioneer's signature style. And though it has penetrated that murky undercurrent of the pop-culture imaginative wherein "novelty songs" dwell, it is rarely associated with its author, the man who also wrote "Maybellene," "Johnny B. Goode" and "No Particular Place to Go." Similarly, Talib Kweli's one hit, the #77 "Get By," off of Quality, is more commonly associated with its producer, Kanye West, for the role it played in further cementing his status as an early 2000s beatmaker extraordinaire. Furthermore, the song bears little if any resemblance to Kweli's work on the groundbreaking Rawkus release Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star. However, complicating the comparison is the idea of credibility, and the fact that it's pretty much impossible to go from being an "underground rapper" to a "studio rapper" to an "underground rapper" again, as "underground" carries with it a host of DIY/indie-cred associations. So it would be far more fitting to say that Talib Kweli was an underground rapper who became a studio rapper and is now, like many fallen titans of the game, an unproduced rapper. Oddly enough, Gutter Rainbows, his latest release, finds Kweli collaborating with a number of former "studio producers" like Marco Polo (Boot Camp Clik), Ski Beatz ("Dead Presidents" by Jay-Z) and Nick Speed (G-Unit).

In the jokey boast-a-thon of an intro, "After the Rain," Kweli tells us he's going to get some "rims with rims on them." Opening track "Gutter Rainbows" and side two opener "Ain't Waiting" feature dramatic, multi-segmented "blaxploitation funk"-beats that wouldn't have felt terribly out of place on Supreme Clientele or any number of east coast rap albums from the same period; for the former, producer M-Phazes implements a bar-length chorus motive, based around swirling strings, and highly reminiscent of a "hero's theme," to punctuate Kweli's fairly weak punch lines. In keeping with the soul music fixation–significant of a '90s-hip-hop purist's resistance to the pernicious influence of electronica–are "So Low," which features moody, filtered electric pianos and a crushed bit vocal hook and for which producer Shuko makes effective use of warm, densely layered choral samples, Marco Polo's not entirely dissimilar "Palookas" and E. Jones' "Friends & Family," which features one of the album's most touching "remember when" rants. Unfortunately, many of his collaborators for Gutter Rainbows have made the imprudent decision to render Kweli's vocals somewhat low in the mix and, as they were already trebly and nasally to begin with, the result is a reedy, unpleasant whine which threatens to grate on the ear at any moment–this being one of the more popular critiques of Kweli's emceeing.

S1's "Mr. International" features a timely Pulp Fiction reference and the, I guess, unfacetious boast "don't be mad 'cos I'm writing this rhyme on my iPad." Despite Kweli's generalized silliness and inability to inspire true consumer envy, the track is a jaunty bit of fluff further honeyed by someone called Nigel Hall's sweet falsetto vocals. And in keeping with the pre-Quality tone of the album, Ed Lover makes an appearance on "I'm On One," which in turn, presupposes quality in a slightly different way. "Wait for You" features a preemptive attack on carping critics, suggesting he might have been aware that it was one of the album's weaker tracks, featuring a dinky, utterly grooveless drum beat and shambling attempts at formulating a vocal melody. Side two turns out to be the weaker: nadirs include the amelodic, directionless "How You Love Me," the slight, forgettable "Tater Tot" and "Uh Oh," but it also contains the album's high water mark: the brief but varied and exciting "Cold Rain," a Ski Beatz production featuring an indelible chorus approximating something like a "structure." Another strong track closes the set, the jazzy Maurice Brown production, "Self Savior."

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