Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Raphael Saadiq: Jimmy Lee [Columbia, 2019]
Having made his solo name as a reinvigorator of tight, hooky, complexly cheerful Motown retro, the former Tony! Toni! Toné! headman's first album since 2011 reverts to an updated version of T!T!T!'s slick modernist r&b. Musically, the effect is to locate it stylistically in a tragic vision of black life that's devoid of street and hood--of realities turned hip hop commonplaces that too often ignore the complexities Saadiq addresses on this one-of-a-kind album: stress, addiction, AIDS, domestic combat, love that's not enough, money problems that keep on keeping on, and mass incarceration. The only surefire hook is the whole of a gospel march called "My Walk" that's even darker than the climactic "Rikers Island Redux." But Kendrick Lamar will get your attention when he leads a finale that's also a coda: "How can I change the world but can't change myself?/How can I please the world but not God himself?/How can I have the world still need some help?/How can I see the world stuck in this box?" A-