Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Rappers' crews are the bane of hip hop. No matter how you rate Snoop Dogg or Busta Rhymes, you're guaranteed to rank the Dogg Pound and the Flipmode Squad lower. St. Lunatics' Free City (Universal) is the exception. Although the odds are against anybody outselling Nelly's enormous 2000 debut, Country Grammar, his buddies, who contributed a fine and funny dope song to that album, improve on its excellent formula. They even top the "Old McDonald"-quoting novelty smash E.I. with Midwest Swing, where the rhythm track is dominated by sampled farm animals. Nelly proves his loyalty to his boys by juicing more than half the tracks, but by no means do the standouts stop there. This is hip hop as pure pop funk, grabbing ears with a new groove provided primarily by the album's true star, chief producer Jason Epperson. Every time you think Epperson's exhausted his store of sounds to make beats from, he comes up with something new.

Two proven singer-songwriters whose names folkie diehards won't recognize: Chuck Cleaver and Eef Barzelay. Reason: both understand the limits of lyrics-firstism so well that they front bands--the Ass Ponys and Clem Snide, respectively. The latest showcase for Cleaver's twisted Midwest realism is Lohio (Checkered Past), with a spiky country-rock, sometimes old-timey and sometimes souped up, complementing titles like Last Night It Snowed and Baby in a Jar. On his third album, The Ghost of Fashion (SpinArt), Barzelay is more the metropolitan cynic, setting off songs like Junky Jews and Joan Jett of Arc with arrangements that feature a standup bass and a keyboard player who doubles on cello and violin. Both artists are eccentric, sardonic, and much smarter than the average folkie.

Playboy, July 2001

June 2001 Aug. 2001