Robert Christgau on Swet Shop Boys, Grime Luminaries, and a Reggae Newcomer
The Dean reviews two records from the transatlantic hip-hop trio, two from Wiley, one from Dizzee, and a fetching, message-free record from Chronixx.
Photo by Christopher Bethell for Noisey
The self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics," Robert Christgau was one of the pioneers of music criticism as we know it. He was the music editor at theVillage Voice for almost four decades where he created the trusted annual Pazz & Jop Poll. He was one of the first mainstream critics to write about hip-hop and the only one to review Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water with one word: "Melodic." On top of his columns, he has published six books, including his 2015 autobiography, Going Into the City . He currently teaches at New York University. Every week, we publish Expert Witness, his long-running critical column. To read more about his career, take a look at his welcome post ; for four decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website .
Swet Shop Boys: Cashmere (Customs) Rat-a-tat-tatting his rhymes grime style, Riz MC—better known as Oxford-educated, Anglo-Pakistani big deal actor Rizwan Ahmed—might better captivate American ears with his bookish smarts and common touch if his gritty high baritone was more resonant and his flow more fluent. Instead equal partner Heems is the de facto lead. But a timely partnership it is. The focused Indian-born Pakistani Ahmed is the foil the disoriented Pakistan-born Hindu Suri has needed since Das Racist split—so unlike stoner-for-life Kool A.D., yet providing not just an aptly skewed racial focus but the ideological ballast Heems needs as he delivers such serious jokes as "Oh no, we're in trouble / TSA always wanna burst my bubble/Always get a random check when I rock the stubble" and "My shoes off at the mandir/My shoes off at the airport, airport, airport, airport / My shoes off at the masjid/My shoes off at the airport, airport, airport, airport." A mandir is a Hindu temple. A masjir is a Muslim mosque. Airports you know about. A MINUS
Swet Shop Boys: Sufi La (Customs) Starting with the consciously rowdy joking around on his 16 of the album- and we hope show-opening "Anthem," this EP's slapstick vibe loosens up meaning and matures Riz's rapping. The clincher is how ebulliently he not just celebrates "Thas My Girl"'s title sex object but pronounces her—"gul," "gyal," etc. Heems's showoff number is "Birding," which names and rhymes 42 species from brown pelican to dowitcher, topping the most recent bird song by that other East Asian rapper. M.I.A., your move. C'mon, girl. A MINUS
Wiley: Godfather (self-released) Grime godfather's first DIY album is his best ever even though he seems incapable of rhyming about a life beyond music, if he has one ("Laptop," "Back With a Banger") ***
Dizzee Rascal: Raskit (Dirtee Stank/Island) Don't care whether his beats are grime or trap, don't care whether his politics are organic or calculated ("Sick a Dis," "Everything Must Go") **
Wiley: 100% Publishing (Big Dada) Finally an album about a rapper's midcareer anxiety that outlines his business plan ("100% Publishing," "One Hit Wonder") **
Chronixx: Chronology (Virgin) As fetching an amalgam of reggae crooning and reggae toasting as you could hope to hear, only don't wait for the message numbers because there aren't any ("Legend," "Smile, Jamaica") **
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