Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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De La Soul's Art Official Intelligence (Mosaic Thump) (Tommy Boy) is billed as the first volume of a long anticipated "triple album set" that I bet won't generate volume two for a year--if we're lucky. Though the surviving standard-bearers of the humanist rap that was quickly outdistanced by L.A. gangsta a decade ago have never gone mega, they've remained commercially viable and honed their skills to match, so for an album that was worked over so hard for so long, Art Official Intelligence has an easeful feel. Densely playful textures that once seemed exotic smoothed out as the world caught on, and now De La's beats are just intelligent pop--an intelligence augmented, as always, by rhymes you can dig into for weeks. And although such cutting-edge producers as Rockwilder chip in, smoother r&b grooves prevail as guest stars from Chaka Khan to the Beastie Boys tell us just how much respect De La Soul deserves. Let 2001 take care of itself--this will hold us for a while.

The "pornographic" Lil' Kim's The Notorious KIM (Queen Bee/Undeas/Atlantic) is an even more hotly anticipated release that also appeared much later fans had hoped. Only a teenager when she debuted in 1996, Kim has matured. Her honey-grit voice enunciates without a hint of effort and never stumbles over the beat, her boasts carry the occasional hint that she's learned the difference between sexual power and sexual pleasure, and her angry lament for her beloved Notorious B.I.G. claims womanly growth. But she still has a tendency to try and wave her clit wherever her male opposite numbers wave their dicks, and let's face it--that's a trick she's unlikely ever to fully master.

Playboy, July 2000

June 2000 Aug. 2000