Robert Christgau on Some Inventive, Alternative Hip-Hop
The Dean of American Rock Critics reviews Homeboy Sandman & Edan's 'Humble Pi' and Open Mike Eagle's 'What Happens When I Try to Relax.'
The self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics," Robert Christgau was one of the pioneers of music criticism as we know it—the music editor of the Village Voice from 1974 to 1985 and its chief music critic for several decades after that. At the Voice he created both the annual Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll and his monthly Consumer Guides. Christgau was one of the first critics to write about hip-hop and the only one to review Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water with one word: "Melodic." He taught at New York University between 1990 and 2016, and has published six books, including his 2015 memoir Going Into the City. A seventh, Is It Still Good to Ya?: Fifty Years of Rock Criticism 1967-2017, is now available from Duke University Press. Every Friday we run Expert Witness, the weekly version of the Consumer Guide he launched in 2010. To find out more, read his welcome post; for almost five decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.
Homeboy Sandman & Edan: Humble Pi (Stones Throw) His beatmaking proudly utilitarian, his quick tetrameters and plosive rat-a-tat-tat too abrupt to fully earn the glorious old metaphor flow, the heroically consistent Homeboy has never been quite musical enough. Hence this partnership with the seldom heard undergrounder Edan, whose electronics heighten and sometimes carry the vocals Homeboy dominates. On the lead "Grim Seasons," Edan's sound effects dramatize Homeboy's rundown of a year's weather from winter's black ice to autumn's fallen. On the closer he extends human evolution similar support. And his looped, massaged fanfare carries "The Gut" front to back. But best by far is the Homeboy-dominated "#Neverusetheinternetagain," which deserves to go viral for running down every waste of brain power virality has wrought. A MINUS
Open Mike Eagle: What Happens When I Try to Relax (Auto Reverse) On six tracks overseen by five producers, the deepest music is built into the sayings of a guy conversant in the same ballplayers, wrestlers, videogames, and alt-rock you are. "When I get nervous I say something relatable." "I hate when I'm late because I try to be punctual." "Everything ain't great but I can do worse/Cause I can go to the dentist when my tooth hurt." "Everybody I know got a stomachache." "My lady ask am I good, I said hell naw." "The economy killed the rhyme star." "Sign an autograph and sell it to your own self." "And I'm so political, hella political." "A generation's been cursed, what that trauma do?" "How it both sides? We ain't both dyin." "Tryna reach black kids in a room full of whites." A MINUS
Atmosphere: Mi Vida Local (Rhymesayers) World's staunchest purveyor of the hip-hop of everyday life, extended instrumental intros included ("Trim," "Mijo") **
2Mex: Lospital (Water the Plants) Lovelorn rapper promises her everything and ack-acks her with hopes for humanity and shreds of common sense ("Unfashionable," "Lospital"); *
Red Pill: Instinctive Drowning (Mello Music) Chronic alcoholism as radical insecurity, outspokenly antiracist yet most educational at its most unideological ("Four Part Cure," "Stars") *
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