Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2011-07-22


Serengeti: Family & Friends (Anticon, 2011) Where other rappers claim mere personas are "characters" (sometimes inhabiting more than one on the very same album!), Serengeti writes playlets with something like dramatis personae--not just a few slightly confused rappers, although he has several of those, but white working-class superfan Kenny, black garbage man Lee, hip-hop dilettante Derek. Over beats supplied by Yoni of Anticon rap-rockers Why?, who must envy his lyrics, and Advance Base, formerly known as Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, he raps as or about 11 different losers possibly including himself on 11 songs that last barely half an hour. These include a son shooting up with his formerly absentee dad, a bigamist who couldn't resist that 17-year-old, a privileged jerk who lost his job and started a blog, and an ultimate fighter who blows his knee out. Sure the tone is often depressive or satirical. But it's also often kind, pained, silly, unhinged, and other things. On Noticeably Negro, Serengeti asked: "Serengeti's very ill very understated/Why'd you have to go and make things so complicated?" The answer is that the world is complicated and he damn well knows it. A-

Serengeti: Noticeably Negro (Audio 8, 2006) In which Chicago alt-rapper David Cohn, a red diaper baby on his African side, explores the conundrums of race and the hidden injuries of class. His woozy flow gathers a musicality that combines Biz Markie and Posdnuous--half wigged-out clown, half unassuming postcollegiate, neither of which Serengeti is or pretends to be. This kind of confusion is intrinsic to how he conceives hip-hop. A song called "Negro Whimsy" is speckled with gunshots; a song called "T.R.I.U.M.P.H." celebrates cabernet and Lucille's rack of lamb. Occasionally, he stumbles into the gentility he parodies. More often he blurs goofy and brilliant so organically that he's both at once. A-

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