Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2010-11-30

2010-11-30

The Roots: How I Got Over (Def Jam, 2010) It's not like hop-hop and anxiety are strangers. But usually that means the mortal fear epitomized by the Notorious B.I.G., or the rampaging neuroses dramatized by Eminem, or the hand-to-mouth worries some alt-rappers cop to. Here it's garden-variety upper-middle-class anxiety. What's next? Am I doing the right thing? Can I pass my accomplishments on to my kids? Is the economy about to go phlooey? Is God on my side? Is God on anyone's side? These are exactly the querulous feelings associated with the alt-rock famously present on the Roots' ninth album in the form of the Dirty Projectors, the Monsters of Folk, and the perfectly sampled Joanna Newsom. Difference is, complex-rhyming Black Thought and his many gifted guest MCs express them more directly, thoughtfully, eloquently, and entertainingly than any of those tyros. And then they up the ante and confront their anxieties with a fortitude and even optimism embodied by Kamal Gray's keyboards, never my idea of this band's strenth, and, especially, ?uestlove's drums. I love sampled beats. But 90 percent of the time I'd rather ride Ahmir Thompson's hand, feet, and brain. A

Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella, 2010) Arrogance per se has never been Yeezy's problem--he has every right to think he's more talented than Nas, Taylor Swift, or me. His problem is that he has no gift for it. Not only is he radically insecure, he didn't come up on the get-it-while-you-can fatalism that armors gangstas street, showbiz, and in between. Cannily and candidly, he acknowledges this on "Monster," where he knows perfectly well that his "profit profit" bling-and-sex brag is about to get blown away by padrone Jay-Z's "All I see is these n****z I made millionaires/Millin' about" and pink-haired Nicki Minaj's "bitch from Sri Lanka"-"Willy Wonka"-"watch the queen conquer" trifecta. Cataloguing the perks of power he sounds as geeky as Mark Zuckerberg, and because grandiosity doesn't suit him deep down, the sonic luxuries of this world-beating return to form have no shot at the grace of The Collede Dropout or Late Registration. But because he's shrewd and large, he knows how to use his profits profits to induce Jay-Z, Pusha T, the RZA, Swizz Beats, and his boy Prince CyHi to admit and indeed complain that the whole deal is "f***in' ridiculous." "Power" doesn't establish his potency and "Gorgeous" isn't quite. But "Hell of a Life"? "I'm so gifted at finding what I don't like the most"? That's his heart, his message, the reason he's so major. It's also why he goes out on a righteous, wacked-out 90-second diatribe by a Gil Scott-Heron so young he hasn't gotten into cocaine--hasn't even signed to a major label. A

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