Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Except for Grandmaster Flash, who haven't had a hit since Sugarhill Records was corporation, and Kool Moe Dee, who enjoyed a prior existence in the Treacherous Three, the oldest living rappers are Run-D.M.C., who surfaced in 1984 and took a powder after their fourth album left the crowd motionless in 1988. They're working on number five in hiding. Not only isn't rap kind to dinosaurs, it barely recognizes the species.

But that doesn't stop a lot of twentysomething hot flashes from making a career out of the the latest youth fad--and the dopest subgenre since punk. Checking in with albums number three are the clipped, quick Eric B. & Rakim (Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em, on MCA) and the poppish girl group Salt-n-Pepa (Blacks' Magic, on Next Plateau). The former relies too predictably on the James Brown beats that got the duo their major-label advance; the latter augments spunky girl talk with the Afrocentric seriousness now demanded by rap fans of all races. Salt-n-Pepa deserve better (check Negro Wit' an Ego, Independent, Let's Talk About Sex), but the hard fact is that neither album has the commercial legs of a career move. So let's hope neither act goes into hiding.

"Don't call it a comeback! I been here for years!" shouts L.L. Cool J on the title track of his fourth album, Mama Said Knock You Out (Def Jam). Upset because 1989's Walking with a Panther never cracked double platinum, he's enlisted demon sampler-mixmaster Melle Mel in what's sure to stand (Run-D.M.C., this means you) as the most powerful and unreconstructed rap of 1990. Cool J isn't down with moralizing. He sticks his car stereo in your ear and drinks a 40 while he's at it; he makes the father of one of the women he's fucking sound exactly like Mike Tyson; he lets KRS-One stop the violence. I don't know whether he'll return to his multiplatinum ways. But this is one rap dinosaur who deserves major respect.

Playboy, Aug. 1990


July 1990 Sept. 1990