Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Brooklyn rapper Mos Def was already a hero of New York's hip hop underground when he joined Talib Kweli on the Black Star album in 1998. His solo Black on Both Sides (Rawkus) is a living, breathing commercial for the articulate understatement favored by young insurgents for whom hip hop is subculture first and pop culture later or never. No hoochie choruses, no hooks vying for air time, just flowing beats intertwined with simple melodies--the subtle double keyboards of Umi Says, say, seguing into the plashing xylophone surrogate of New World Water. Mos Def is one of those rappers who spills out philosophy as easily as someone discussing the ball scores at the water cooler--lots of words, sometimes drama, but rarely much showing off because he's too confident to need it. As the title indicates, he's a race man. As you can't know without listening, he's smart and loving and convincing about it--that is, eminently worth a listen.

On Ad Finite, their inaurural U.S. release and first album for Tricky's Durban Poison label, the long-running English techno duo Genaside II spare no sonic expense in updating Gil Scott-Heron's The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, which is where their trip begins. From fake strings and real opera singers to big beats and rough dancehall shouters, they make their soundscape all that it can be. Two simpler techno records succeed in almost the opposite way, by achieving one simple goal. On Aphrodite (Gee Street/V2) it's jungle beats closer to the funk root than is now the fashion, nowhere more explicitly than on the hard-rapped Woman That Rolls. Slick Sixty's Nibs and Nabs (Mute) goes for a more sophisticated groove--lounge r&b in the age of the sampler.

Playboy, Nov. 1999

Oct. 1999 Dec. 1999