Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2015-03-20


Common: Nobody's Smiling (Def Jam/Artium, 2014) Gone back to Chitown, he "could give a fuck if it's real or a weave" ("Hustle Harder," "Nobody's Smiling") **

DJ Rashad: Double Cup (Hyperdub, 2014) Either the sonic testament of the master of the Chicago dance movement called footwork or a surprisingly fun set of thick 808 beats with vocal accoutrements ("Feelin," "Only One") ***

Lupe Fiasco: Tetsuo & Youth (Atlantic, 2015) Angry at the record company, angry at a racist society, not sure they're different, Too Smart throws up his hands and down his gantlet and generates a music-driven album in which violin interludes named after the seasons separate long stretches of associative protest poetry, detailing prison and hood sociology that's scarier than you expect because you thought you already knew that shit. The two strongest tracks begin the winter section: "Choppers," about buying filet mignon with your food stamps and healthcare from Obama, and "Delivery," about how hard it is to order crap pizza in a place where people get shot. But "Prisoner 1 & 2" could mess up your mind as well. The final interlude is called "Spring," only it's not an interlude. It's the end. Nothing follows. A-

Heems: Eat Pray Thug (Megaforce, 2015) Heems has always been explicit about the unimaginable extra burden of racism borne by African-Americans in this country. But on the 9/11 rhyme "Flag Shopping" ("We're going flag shopping/For American flags/They're staring at our turbans/They're calling them rags") and the 9/11 recitation "Patriot Act" ("They would come at night and they would make a mess and the mess upset his wife"), he documents the racism Americans who look like him suffered after the towers fell--a disaster he watched horrified from Stuyvesant High School a few blocks away. Nothing else here can match those tracks. But I'm almost as down with "Sometimes," a "Personality Crisis" for outer boroughs kids of the immigrant generation, and assume it sums up who Heems is: not bipolar because his psyche is too multi, but moody and chronically confused. Note that two out of three love songs would be a feat for the most unconfused rapper, with the placeholding "Pop Song (Games)" obviously a sop to the label--the other two project emotions too smart for radio's confused-breakup norm. And beneath all this burble beats that suit a musicality worthy of the artist one song here spells "Jawn Cage." This is rapping that foregrounds the variegations of the ordinary speaking voice--its cracks, its rumbles, its anxious highs, its distracted lows, its deep-seated imperfections and insecurities. It's very American. A

Serengeti: Kenny Dennis III (Joyful Noise, 2014) The rapping telephone booth repairman goes on tour with his good buddy guy Anders Holm ("Tanya T," "Tickled Pink") *

Sisyphus: Sisyphus (Asthmatic Kitty, 2014) Two gentle male alt-whatever thirtysomethings negotiate the tricky shoals of their kindafuckedupness, rapping and cooing to hold their bad nerves at bay, with Son Lux's beats ordering their universe. Serengeti's "Calm it down" matches Sufjan's "I won't be afraid." But it's Geti's joking around that eases their shared mind. This is, after all, a world in which Steve Urkel rhymes with Studs Terkel. That's something. B+

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