Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide:
Ignorants and Know-Alls Keep Out

Eight inauthenticities hard to resist, even when hard to understand, or impossible to love

ATMOSPHERE: Headshots: Se7en (Rhymesayers Entertainment) Nearly two hours of 1997-99 cassette-only rarely peak and never drag. A battle rapper already touching on the conscience-stricken sexual and relationship issues that would move shysters to slot him emo, Slug is so excited to discover how much rhyme he has in him that his creative optimism revs Ant's subtle tracks. He's not inventing alt-rap. But he might as well be. B PLUS

BANG ON A CAN: Bang on a Can Meets Kyaw Kyaw Naing (Cantaloupe) Kyaw Kyaw Naing is a virtuoso percussionist from a Burmese family so distinguished that the last Burmese ensemble to play New York before his own, back in 1975, was led by his father. Myanmar being a very special military dictatorship, Kyaw Kyaw Naing now lives in Sunnyside, and his first recording with Western musicians is the best kind of fusion--our guys trying to execute his scales, melodies, and structures rather than him trying to adapt. The result is brighter and livelier than most of the indigenous Asian stuff I hear. Though it's chamber music rather than any kind of pop or jazz, it's more accessible and enjoyable than any similarly sourced Rough Guide or Sublime Frequencies comp. Inauthenticity rools. A MINUS

BLUEPRINT: 1988 (Rhymesayers Entertainment) This Ohio double threat produced for his Weightless crew and rapped for RJD2 before putting one and one together. Though he's the kind of rhymer who scans "another good record with bad distribution" all too swimmingly, the hip-hop don't stop even when it's about some hip-hop-writing "Boom-Box" for Radio Rahiem (of Do the Right Thing, kids) does back-in-the-day prouder than usual. "Big Girls Need Love Too" has a whole lotta heart. "Inner City Native Son" is a straightforward narrative with beats and moral to match. "Kill Me First" makes police violence musical and chipmunks Richard Pryor. "Liberated" respects the dimensions of its theme. A MINUS

50 CENT: The Massacre (Shady/Aftermath/Interscope) He's impossible to love but hard to resist, and though that may not be what he'd prefer, hard to resist will do. All the ugly gangsta lies are here, especially as regards the brutalization of women and the business of death. But they're incidental to the mood of the piece, which is friendly, relaxed, good-humored, and in the groove. As cute as Jay-Z if somewhat less intelligent, 50 throws a party that doesn't quit. I note for the record that Dr. Dre claims production on just two tracks while Eminem takes four, and that "Candy Shop" and "Just a Lil Bit" are both by "Scott Storch for Tuff Jew Productions." A MINUS

RACHID TAHA: Tékitoi (Wrasse) Arabic "Rock the Casbah" or no Arabic "Rock the Casbah," this doesn't bite down as fast and hard as Made in Medina, and it'll take more than the crib sheet to hold Francophone and Anglophone attention when it gets all lyrical in the middle. Nevertheless, Taha transcends translation when he snarls--to quote the booklet, crude though it may be--"Bores, racists, the undecided, ignorants, know-alls, winners, show-offs." If you doubt his righteous rage, the beat and the rai subtext and the ululating hangers-on ratchet his cred. "Get rid of them! Ask them for an explanation!" Yeah! A MINUS

BOUBACAR TRAORÉ: The Best of Boubacar Traoré: The Bluesman From Mali (Wrasse) Though his thoughtful melancholy is his own, Traoré is one of those Africans so indigenously immersed that he sounds like a sage to us--the chorus on "Kar Kar Madison" could be chanting "Honor thy father and thy mother" until you learn that Kar Kar is Traoré's nickname and the Madison the old dance novelty gone Malian. Because he's a sage, you have to be in the mood for him, so I figure 1990's Mariama caught me at the right time. I now prefer this post-1996 sampler while recognizing that it won't be for everyone. Eternal recurrence only goes so far. B PLUS

LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III: Here Come the Choppers! (Sovereign Artists) For a decade Wainwright has been keeping it real with songs about family trauma and songs about what a shit he is--themes sometimes addressed simultaneously, as in "Year," where he first meets his latest daughter on her first birthday. Once his political songs fell flat because he wasn't scared or angry enough. Now when he's a shit you wonder why you should care--which is kind of hip-hop, don't you think?--but Bush has him so scared and angry he makes up for it, with a dedicated posse of El Lay studio vets getting in their licks. "No Sure Way" mourns the WTC, "God's Country" renounces Nashville, and "Choppers" imagines a bombed Los Angeles devastated as logically and surreally as a bombed Baghdad. And "Choppers" is no more disturbing than "My Biggest Fan," which could inspire any singer-songwriter to do an emotional cost-benefit analysis on the touring life--and leave a 400-pound aficionado feeling flattered anyway. A MINUS

WORLD PSYCHEDELIC CLASSICS 3: LOVE'S A REAL THING (Luaka Bop) A canny idea, packaging vaguely countercultural early-'70s Afropop as psychedelia rather than funk. That way the shambling trap drums and casual solos are part of the solution rather than part of the problem. And though none of these bands could have rocked Woodstock's socks off like the Family Stone or Ten Years After, nobody wore socks at Woodstock anyway. Charming at worst and captivating at best, sometimes mild and sometimes wild, the sources range from Cameroon and Nigeria up to Mali, crossing the treacherous boundaries between Anglophone and Francophone, jungle and desert--as if west-central Africa, at least, is all one place. Not that the music's homogeneous, although there's a cheesiness to the guitars that the hotshots down in Kinshasa would have laughed out of town. But it shares a mood--postcolonial hopes inflamed by news of a world cultural revolution that would soon succumb to the economics of enforced scarcity. The high point is William Onyeabor's "Better Change Your Mind," which calmly warns Western nations including Canada and Cuba not to "think this world is yours." It seems Africa didn't have what it took to back Onyeabor up. We shall see. A MINUS

Dud of the Month

THE GAME: The Documentary (Aftermath/G Unit/Interscope) Shout-outs are one thing, name-dropping is another: on "Dreams" alone, Dre, 50, Pac, Biggie, Snoop, Eazy, Kanye, Whitney, Jam Master Jay, Marvin Gaye, Frankie Beverly, Aaliyah, Left Eye, Mya, Viveca, Yetunde Price, Venus and Serena Williams, Huey Newton, Martin Luther King, Marshall Mathers, "Vibe magazine," and Dave Mays. Now permit me to refrain from listing the titles from which the title track is constructed. Dull even when he isn't describing his medical problems, this no-talent is masscult rock at its most brazen, as certain to fall as Tom DeLay (meaning it looks that way and I hope the fuck). He's not Asia or Whitesnake, who reconstituted known elements. Even Nelson had a pedigree, although you could say Game's Crip mom equals their cokehead dad. Eddie Money, maybe? Lasted too long, but an ex-cop--perfect. C MINUS

Additional Consumer News

Honorable Mention

  • Beck: Guero (Interscope): Is that the world ending in his rearview mirror, or just his career? ("Rental Car," "Earthquake Weather," "Qué Onda, Guero").
  • Soul Position: 8 Million Stories (Rhymesayers/Fat Beats): Blueprint free-associates at his own risk, RJD2 distracts on principle ("Fuckajob," "The Jerry Springer Episode").
  • Devin the Dude: To tha X-Treme (Rap-A-Lot): Languid Houston rapper makes love and jokes out of how hard meaning no harm can be ("Briarpatch," "What?").
  • Break Bread (Peanuts and Corn): McEnroe All-Stars trade EP cameos ("Breakfast All Day," "No Other MC").
  • Azzddine With Bill Laswell: Massafat (Barbarity): Techno in Morocco, Morocco here ("Srir F' Al Houbb," "Fine").
  • Elvis Costello: The Delivery Man (Lost Highway): The Impostors sound even more pissed off than Elvis, who seems less embittered as a result ("Button My Lip," "There's a Story in Your Voice").
  • Los Camperos de Valles: El Ave de Mi Soñar (Smithsonian Folkways): Curated specimens of Veracruz style captured all the way live on Corason's El Caimán: Sones Huastecos ("El Aguanieve," "El Llorar").
  • The Klezmatics: Brother Moses Smote the Water (Piranha): Like the Lord God Jahweh, gospel-klezmer collaboration can be awesome or awful ("Elijah Rock," "Didn't It Rain").
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Central Asia (World Music Network): Bands from the 'stans, where traditional meets classical and rock is as modern as hip-hop (Ashkabad, "From the Station to the Mill"; Sherali Juraev, "Oz'begim"; National Assembly of the Presidential Orchestra, "Zhez-kiik").
  • World 2004 (Wrasse): Charlie Gillett presents songs from 28 lands, including five Afro-Euro collabs (DJ Dolores y Orchestra Santa Massa, "A Dance da Moda"; Aïwa, "Oudïwa").
  • Sí, Soy Llanero: Joropo Music From the Orinoco Plains of Colombia (Smithsonian Folkways): Harp and bandola cowboy songs dressed up with the occasional vocal (Ana Veydó, "Un Llanero de Verdad"; Carlos Quintero, "Los Diamantes").
  • Cam'Ron: Purple Haze (Roc-a-Fella): Musicality covers over only so much gunrunning and sexual exploitation, though more than I would have figured ("Girls," "Get Down").
  • Nelly: Suit (Universal): Representing for treating women decent ("Paradise," "My Place").
  • Bats'i Son (Latitude): Thirty-year-old Smithsonian recordings from Chiapas, including trumpets, Christmas songs, and childlike voices ("Fiesta de San Sebastian--Venustiano Carranza," "Danza de Mujeres-Tenejapa").

Choice Cuts

  • Prefuse 73, "Hideyaface" (Surrounded by Silence, Warp)
  • Sage Francis, "Gunz Yo" (A Healthy Distrust, Epitaph)
  • Aesop Rock, "Holy Smoke" (Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives, Definitive Jux)


  • Classic Folk Music (Smithsonian Folkways)
  • Robert Downey Jr: The Futurist (Sony Classical)
  • Marianne Faithfull: Before the Poison (Anti-)
  • The Game: West Coast Resurrection (Getlow)
  • K-Os: Joyful Rebellion (Astralwerks)
  • Mali (Putumayo World Music)
  • Pedestrian: Volume One: unIndian songs (Anticon)

Village Voice, Apr. 19, 2005

Mar. 22, 2005 May 17, 2005