The self-proclaimed “Dean of American Rock Critics,” Robert Christgau was one of the pioneers of music criticism as we know it. He was the music editor at the Village Voice for almost four decades where he created the trusted annual Pazz & Jop Poll. He was one of the first mainstream critics to write about hip-hop and the only one to review Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water with one word: “Melodic.” On top of his columns, he has published six books, including his 2015 autobiography, Going Into the City. He currently teaches at New York University. Every week, we publish Expert Witness, his long-running critical column. To find out more about his career, read his welcome post; for four decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.
Pusha T: Daytona (G.O.O.D Music) G.O.O.D. Music’s weekly-EP gimmick was basically a neat excuse to fuck around and call it art. But as a compression device, the seven-song limit was perfect for framing and accentuating its CEO’s narrow strengths in an opener the series never got near to topping. Pusha’s verbal pride is a formal passion that rejects both excess and half measures as he enunciates every syllable in his impassive, sibilant flow, and no objective observer would deny how skilled is at narrativizing the cocaine hustle. But where 45 minutes of his unflinching tales wear ordinary humans out, the EP format compels him to hone every line, as in, oh: “If you ain’t energized like the bunny for drug money / Or been paralyzed by the sight of a drug mummy / This ain’t really for you, this for the Goya Montoya / Who said I couldn’t stop, then afforded me all the lawyers.” It also helps that the label owner provides the hardest and simplest beats he’s stooped to in years. And that Pusha hates Drake so much he compares him to Trump. A
Tierra Whack: Whack World (self-released) The third commandment of my school of Orthodox Rock Criticism, after “Fuck getting there first” and “Never read the comments,” is “Thou shalt not watch the video.” We Orthodox stick to music music music. So having concluded after a few streams that these 15 one-minute songs belonged in my permanent collection as songs, I’m reviewing the music here—a burn of the Philadelphia rapper-singsonger’s EP, which I DLed from Amazon after determining that it wasn’t on Bandcamp. The fragments gain emotional weight as they accrue, so that the second half is more affecting than the jokes, brags, reveries, and interpersonal touches that draw you in, with the turning point the hooky hillbilly stomp “Fuck Off.” But the most emotional moment of all is the 15 seconds of wordless, keyboard-brushed cymbal ticks that transition out of Whack’s final line: “I know that I am worth mo-o-o-ore.” Having figured all this out, however, I decided that professional ethics required me to check the video everybody was raving about on my desktop. And how about that—for once everybody was right. Soon I had it up on the flat-screen for my wife, who’d only liked the EP. The video she loved. “It gave me reason for living,” she told me, and we all need those these days. A MINUS
Kanye West and Kid Cudi: Kids See Ghosts (G.O.O.D. Music) What’s best about this trifle isn’t that the big man and his protege acknowledge their madness, with West shitcanning his meds while Cudi turns into such a rehab nut that the five-minute focus track “Reborn” repeats the mantra “I’m movin’ forward” 53 times.” Instead, what’s best is that they fool around like male bonders should—”Feel the Love”‘s vocal rat-a-tats, “Fourth Dimension”‘s Louis Prima sample, “Kids See Ghosts”‘s nursery rhyme in waiting, “Freeee”‘s long guttural E’s. So its closest brush with wisdom is political rather than therapeutic: Yasiin Bey a/k/a Mos Def envisioning “Civilization without society / Power and wealth with nobility / Stability without stasis / Spaces and places.” A MINUS
Gift of Gab: Rejoice! Rappers Are Rapping Again! (Giftstribution) Don’t let the “again” suck you in—of course he’s more fluid and sapient than the Soundcloud upstarts, but they have things to tell the world that he can’t (“Gentrification Song,” “Freedom Form Flowing”) ***
Nas: Nasir (G.O.O.D Music) Bringing the knowledge, mixing in the sophistry, and dropping a laugh line he knows the boss can’t top: “Everybody’s saying my humility’s infectious,” what a card (“Cops Shot the Kid,” “Everything”) *
Kanye West: Ye (G.O.O.D Music) The assiest moment in his half-assed attempt to make asshattery germane again is when he claims #MeToo for his foggy fat self, and if it’s also the catchiest, fuck you if you can’t take a joke—her too (“All Mine,” “Yikes”) *
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