Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2015-05-08


Death Grips: The Powers That B (Third Worlds/Harvest, 2015) Having outlived their modishness, the biracial art-rap-cum-ragecore trio release a double album that, as I once requested, sidesteps their sex-hating/fearing misogyny. This they achieve not by putting it aside altogether but by sticking it on one disc, based musically on "Björk's vocals (as found object)" har har, epitomized thematically by "Have a Sad Come BB" (pronounced "baby"), and entitled for confusion's sake Niggas on the Moon. Its longer opposite number, entitled for confusion's sake Jenny Death, is epitomized thematically by a breakneck Humvee of an opener called "Break Mirrors With My Face in the United States." They couldn't have anticipated Freddie Gray except in the sense that there'll always be another, the rare ragecore truism with undeniable truth value. But in this time of racist callousness, I find their all-purpose hostility and alienation apt and, sometimes, perversely satisfying--on "Pss Pss," "Centuries of Dawn," "Beyond Alive." B+

White Mandingos: The Ghetto Is Tryna Kill Me (Fat Beats, 2013) Brainchild of Ego Trip's Sacha Jenkins, Bad Brains' Daryl Jenifer, and well-meaning backpack rapper Murs, this concept album about a well-meaning projects-born crossover rapper actually succeeds at saying something coherent about interracial possibility in America. Part of its secret is not digging too deep--the romances and family matters it describes partake of the contradictions everyone knows are there with the kind of clarity and humor that gatekeepers dismiss as corny only because gatekeepers think they're so great. Murs has always had trouble finding fresh material on the alt-rap circuit. By fictionalizing himself slightly, he gets to write what are essentially fables, and by adding guitars he gets dibs on a new bunch of beats. Released mid-2013, this album has no reputation I know of. But it should, because it does have heart, and that heart is made of muscle where so many fetishize marzipan. A-

Young Fathers: Dead (Anticon, 2014) As a U.S. admirer of this interracial Scottish hip-hop trio's brave, dour Tape Two EP, I was bummed by the diminished lyricism of their proper debut until its 2014 Mercury Prize got my attention. The album is indeed different--chanted unison and solo more than rapped, tribal in feeling at times, with beatmaker G Hastings making like a fucked-up in vitro synth-rock band. But insofar as I can decipher their intent, now I'm bummed the way they want me to be, as the songs that surface one by one make me worry about the state of their world, and of mine. A-

Young Fathers: White Men Are Black Men Too (Big Dada, 2015) I don't know what the title means either, and I doubt they do. "Poor lives matter"? "After all, our beatmaker is white"? "We never ever want to think about racism again"? But note that when they utter the title during "Old Rock n Roll," there's a "some" in front. Note too that said beatmaker has progressed in his quest to invent some new rock n roll. Note that the vocalists are in on the project. Note that in "John Doe" they repeat and repeat "Laissez les bon temps roulez" with a disquiet that splits the difference between street fair and wailing wall. A-

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