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Talib Kweli backs away from the mainstream in Gutter Rainbows
Alternative again

Talib Kweli has returned to his socially conscious roots.

Just last week, the Brooklyn-based MC made news when he dropped Colt 45's sponsorship of his April 20 concert in Lawrence, Kan. The Pabst brand has been criticized for marketing its new fruit-flavored, high-alcohol-content Blast drink to young hip-hop fans.

"To my fans in Lawrence, Kansas, the Granada Theater has partnered with Colt 45 without my knowledge to promote the show," Kweli posted to his Twitter account on April 12. "I will be at the Granada, but Colt 45 is no longer involved in the show promo," he added.

Kweli, who performs at Overture Center April 23, has also turned away from the commercial production influences heard on his 2007 album, Eardrum. With cameos from Kanye West and Justin Timberlake, Eardrum edged Kweli closer to mainstream hip-hop.

That's not how Kweli, 35, began his career. Black Star, his collaboration with Mos Def, helped pioneer socially conscious hip-hop in 1997. The duo released one album together in 1998.

With its impressionistic arrangements and dreamy feel, Kweli's fourth solo album, Gutter Rainbows, embraces alternative rap. Psychedelic synth grounds the down-tempo sound of "How You Love Me." Lyrically, the song considers the psychological dimensions of relationships in ways hip-hop songs rarely do.

The albums shifts into jazz mode on "Wait For You," a rant against superficial art and immediate gratification. "What are you doing with your life?" raps Kweli. "Your time on Earth is sacred. The time you spend at your plantation, is it worth the paper?" Between funky drumbeats, Kweli's vocals form a three-way call-and-response with the trumpets and electric piano.

Collaboration remains key to the power of Kweli's tracks. On Gutter Rainbows, he pairs with critically acclaimed female vocalists Jean Grae and Kendra Ross. Grae's raps frame the urgent melodrama of "Uh Oh," and make it the best song on the CD.

Kweli has already begun work on his next album, which will include tracks recorded while producing Gutter Rainbows. Signaling Kweli's continuing focus on alternative music, the album's working title is Prisoner of Conscious.

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