Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • NIA [Quannum Projects, 2000] A-
  • Blazing Arrow [MCA, 2002] ***
  • The Craft [Anti-, 2005] A-
  • Imani Vol. 1 [Black Mines, 2015] **

Consumer Guide Reviews:

NIA [Quannum Projects, 2000]
Like all underground hip-hop whether it admits it or not, this is not aimed at le DMX fan moyen intellectuel. Like all underground hip-hop whether it admits it or not, it's for musos--predominantly white and Asian beat aesthetes whose racial impulses risk awkwardness and worse no matter how objectively progressive their tastes and ideas. But that doesn't mean the scene isn't good for plenty of sharp rhymes and rhythms, or that this West Coast crew aren't better than that. Not because they refuse to "contribute to genocide" by faking gangsta "reality," although that's nice, but because they refuse to contribute to the pleasureless us-versus-them of the old-school ethos. As philosophy, their spirituality is icky. As music, it's profusely generous, overflowing with tribal chants and doo-wop choruses and easygoing basslines. They're "r&b" without a wet rhyme in 74 minutes. They actually seem capable of a hit. And if, as usual, that actuality is theoretical, soundtrack scouts should at least remember they're around. A-

Blazing Arrow [MCA, 2002]
Words of Wisdom from Gift of Gab ("Sky Is Falling," "Release") ***

The Craft [Anti-, 2005]
There's no more accomplished crew in alt-rap, and though that can make their messages seem slick sometimes, on this break with UniMoth their booming beats, lucid raps, and articulate rhymes are technically miraculous. The Lifesavas, George Clinton, and ally-for-life Lyrics Born--whose deep rapid-fire takes the quick-lipped Gift of Gab to Mount Sinai--vary the flowetry better than Floetry, and most tracks offer what we outside of hit radio call hooks. With "World of Vibrations" and "The Craft" bookending metathematically, high points include the uplifting "Supreme People," "Your Move," and "The Fall and Rise of Elliot Brown" and two songs about women. "Powers" describes a queen, "Side to Side" a skank. Musically, both gals get respect. A-

Imani Vol. 1 [Black Mines, 2015]
"Blacka than midnight in Kuwait or Afghanistan"--also than "the president (well, half of him)" ("Blacka," "Alpha and Omega") **