On the intro to what is possibly his best solo release in recent years, Talib Kweli hangs in the background, not lending his voice to the first track on Gutter Rainbows. Yet the Brooklyn MC throws out all doubt with the title track, a ’70s-esque jam that shows off his impressive flow and, more importantly, his passion. Passion is the prevailing theme throughout Gutter Rainbows; Kweli blends a gritty outlook with a genuine interest in social issues to create an album that sounds refreshingly idealistic in a world still reeling from Kanye West’s bombastic record.

The highlight of the album comes with “Tater Tot,” a story-based track that has Kweli relaying the tale of an army vet involved in a shoot-out. It’s compelling stuff, and the MC weaves narratives on almost every track that find the humanity in the grit. Jean Grae provides the album’s best guest spot on “Uh Oh,” laying down a verse worthy of any hip-hop album in recent memory. It’s just another example of Kweli’s talent as an artist: even when he’s not on the track at any given moment, his musical aspirations are realized to their full potential.