Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The most renowned albums spawned by Staten Island's Wu-Tang have been the grandest--by master mixer RZA, teacher Genius/GZA, and the Wu itself. That's why the cover of the new Cappadonna soundscape, The Pillage (Razor Sharp/Epic Street), is festooned with a Hollywood-style "Wu-Tang Productions Presents." And like all Wu records, The Pillage sounds great, its rhythms and textures as deep as the bottom of New York Harbor. But I prefer spinoffs with more focus, like the heart-rending gangsta tales of Ghostface Killah's 1996 Ironman--or the jeremiads of Killah Priest's Heavy Mental (Geffen).

Although most of the production is by apprentices, Priest's ineluctable beats, ominous minor chords, and sampled C-movie dialogue will sound creepily familiar to anyone who knows some recent hip hop. And his rapid-fire lyrics, studded with internal rhymes, are end-of-the-century scary: prophecies and admonitions straight out of the black underclass's sane suspicion that the world is coming to an end. You don't have to agree to find his angst educational, his conviction gripping, and his artistic accomplishment proof that his class deserves better than it usually gets.

"I had to work to be the jerk I've come to be," Chris Knight boasts ruefully on the first track of Chris Knight (Decca), and suddenly you wonder whether this country hopeful might be the songwriting ace so many disappointments have claimed to be. He's pithy, homespun, observant, forever staving off his own doom, and if his voice is as unpretty as he is, that's part of the point. A decade ago, Nashville would have called him rock and roll and sent him packing. It's to the credit of the ultimate music-biz town that it's willing to bet on his talent now.

Playboy, Apr. 1998

Mar. 1998 May 1998