Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2012-11-23

2012-11-23

Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d city (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope, 2012) The rap-versus-real dichotomy Saigon moralizes anthemically Lamar enacts softspokenly in this so-called "short film." (Concept album? In 2012? Nah.) The accuracy of its intimate autobiographical details is irrelevant--what matters is that this album helps you feel the internal struggles of a good kid who may not be good enough as he risks derailing his life by succumbing to the kneejerk loyalty, petty criminality, and gang warfare of the hood he calls home. Nobody is heroic here, including Lamar--from Christian strivers to default sociopaths, all the players are confused, weary, bored, ill-informed, with disconcertingly naturalistic, almost verit? skits dramatizing their limitations. The commitment to drama has musical drawbacks--there are no dancefloor bangers here, and not many fully distinct songs, although more hooks than you'll first believe. But the atmospheric beats Dr. Dre and his hirelings lay under the raps and choruses establish musical continuity, shoring up a nervous flow that's just what Lamar's rhymes need. A-

Saigon: The Greatest Story Never Told: Chapter Two: Bread and Circuses (Suburban Noize, 2012) Although the beats have fallen off a little--Just Blaze moves up to executive producer on most tracks--the prompt follow-up to Brian Carenard's long-delayed debut is slightly less militant and, as a direct result, stronger. The best song on an album distinguished by two major conscious anthems--the well-hooked tribute to the martyrs "Blown Away," and "Rap vs Real," a sharp-tongued rebuke to hip hop authenticity myths that backhands Puffy on its way to gonorrhea and the IRS--nails a theme few of his fans are savvy enough to grok and no rock icon of my acquaintance has gotten near: "Relafriendship," about his long-term bond to a woman he'd better not go to bed with because that'll screw up what they've got. But almost nothing here dips to ordinary. And beats or not, one reason is that the rapper's rough clarity is musical bedrock. A-

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