Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Today's hip hop always comes with a patina of authenticity, often equated with a fake toughness that's doubly appalling when it turns real (cf. Tupac, Snoop Doggy Dogg). So Back in the Day, the debut single chosen for 18-year-old rapper Ahmad, describes South Central when he was "young," which means 10 or 12. The difference is, Ahmad claims he had a reasonably good time as a kid, and before the song is over he's escaped the 'hood--no true-to-the-game dick-waving for this budding pop pro.

Ahmad's partner in success is the slightly older Kendal "Son of Berry" Gordy, who hooked up with the teenager when he got bussed to high school in Pacific Palisades. How far Ahmad will go remains to be seen--Back in the Day wasn't quite large. But the Ahmad album (Giant) should surprise anyone who enjoys hip hop as music. His sing-song evokes a sincere Slick Rick, or a kind Snoop, and the polyrhythmic vocal layers woven into his funk lite, most spectacularly on Freak, add new twists to rap's ever-expanding rhythmic language.

For those who crave full-bore authenticity without brutal posturing, the best option to date is Nas's Illmatic (Columbia), New York's typically spare and loquacious entry in the post-gangsta sweepstakes coming soon to a boombox near you. Nas is true to the game with a vengeance, but his vengeance is never gratuitous, and after a few more tracks as catchy as It Ain't Hard To Tell and Represent, he may even find he has homeboys in South Central.

Fast Cuts: Meanwhile, South Central will stick to local product like Warren G.'s Regulate . . . G Funk Era (Violator/RAL), which delivers the phat phunk Dr. Dre and Snoop lied about with no sacrifice in general nastiness. And those who enjoy hip hop as music will pick up the Beastie Boys' Ill Communication (Grand Royal) no matter what 'hood they're from.

Playboy, June, 1994

1994? 1994 Jan. 1994