Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Jazz-rap has been a great idea since Ron Carter joined A Tribe Called Quest, since Public Enemy's sonics boomed--hell, since Jack Kerouac burped up spontaneous bop prosody. Well-meaning crews from New York's Gang Starr to L.A.'s Freestyle Fellowship dabble in it. But Digable Planets go all the way. Not only does the music of Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space) (Pendulum) swing funkily, the lyrics' light-footed seriousness is a worthy of the jazzmen they sample--like Art Blakey, who infiltrated the Billboard singles charts courtesy the Digables' Rebirth of Slick.

The conceptualizer is a black boho with jazz in his blood whose tag is Butterfly. His main man Doodle Bug connects to hip hop tradition. But the group's secret weapon--who gets cheered before every feature at live gigs, which are backed by a five-man combo--is a young woman called Ladybug. The faintly Brazilian lilt and articulation of her vocal attack makes her the first female rapper to split the difference between homegirl and interloper. She's just a smart musician who grew up on the stuff, and smart listeners who've grown up on the stuff unawares will love her to death.

Fast Cuts: Soundtracks are often the best rap overviews these days, and not all of them get as much play as Juice or Boomerang. Trespass (Sire/Warner Bros.) is state-of-the art hardcore--gritty, violent, misogynistic, convincing as both music and rhetoric. South Central (Hollywood Basic) links the dancers of the post-Chic era (six great Good Times permutations) to the B-boys of today. And CB4 (MCA), compiled by producer-cowriter (and my colleague) Nelson George, is a complete tour, from the race war of MC Ren's May Day on the Front Line to the pop mysticism of PM Dawn's The Nocturnal Is in the House to the parody of CB4's own Straight Out of Locash.

Playboy, Mar. 1993

Feb. 1993 Apr. 1993