G.O.O.D. Music Abounds: Expert Witness with Robert Christgau
The Dean reviews the latest from Kanye West, Pusha T, Travis Scott, and more.
Welcome to Expert Witness with Robert Christgau, the self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics." He currently teaches at NYU and published multiple books throughout his life. For nearly four decades, he worked as the music editor for The Village Voice, where he created the annual Pazz & Jop poll. Every Friday, Noisey will happily publish his long-running critical column. To learn more about him and his life, read his welcome post here.
Kanye West: The Life of Pablo (Def Jam/G.O.O.D. Music) In this ever-changing world in which we live in, I can't swear my 18-track DL is the same as yours, and should there materialize a CD with a pretty cover and a credits booklet, I will buy one with my own money. But for all the chatter about this hypefest's mutability, I doubt any "final" will be different enough to merit a second review. I just don't have time to untangle West’s "creative process" with so many lesser artists' creative products ready to go, and neither do you. C'mon—his genius isn't about his famous fame or his stalled fashion sideline. His genius is musical—production chops above all, plus the flow fools once mocked. And musically, The Life of Pablo is a backslid Christian's anti-Yeezus. Dark Twisted Fantasy's synesthetic layering subsumed 808s's electropop miniaturism enabled Watch the Throne's coronation boomeranged to the sacriligeous provocation my man Big Ghost summed up as "I KNOW YALL LOVE TURKEY BUT YALL EVER TRIED MONGOOSE?" The Life of Pablo is turkey—West's latest course correction, wittingly casual and easy on the ears. Unlike Yeezus, it won't top many 2016 lists—it's too blatantly imperfect, too flagrantly unfocused. But that's also its charm, and I prefer it. The opening parlay of "I'm tryna keep my faith" and "Same problem my father had" hints at contrition. Hedged hedges distance-or-don't the porn boasts he can't kick. His kids breach the narrative like that uppity Blue. His sweetest hook tops Bajan superstar with Jamaican sister. Kendrick gets his chance to bookend Chance and all but falls down. The pseudo-freestyle meta-wink "I Love Kanye" is a narcissist's "We Don't Care" and almost as funny. The sour-grapes self-examination morphs into a pseudo-outlet track. So right, there's a lot here. But right, it's no masterpiece. Get over it. It'll do you good. A MINUS
Pusha T: My Name Is My Name (Def Jam) The enduring artistic value of Pusha's clipped flow is how masterfully it evokes what Caucasians call a prick. There's no romance in his dope tales, no pleasure either. Where long ago Kelefa Sanneh observed that Jay-Z never told us how the champagne tasted, King All-I-Can-Be never drives the cars he treats better than his hoes. This is what ruthless acquisitiveness sounds like. To reduce it to music is a true achievement. But ask yourself whether it's what you want. Don't lie now. A MINUS
Lil Wayne: No Ceilings 2 (Free DatPiff download) Saith Big Ghost: "Ayo I aint got nothin against Wayne but his crew is some garbage niggaz nahmean. That aint a dynasty or nothin nahmean. Thats a crew wit like 10 Memphis Bleeks namsayin." ("My Name Is," "Big Wings") ***
Compton: A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre (Aftermath/Interscope) So many guests Dre spends half the record off the mic, improving it immeasurably. ("Genocide," "Animals") **
Pusha T: King Push: Darkest Before Dawn—The Prelude (Def Jam/G.O.O.D. Music) Well-bent Timbeats back the usual easy coca lies/hard coca truths and are docked a notch for arrogating Freddie Gray and Public Enemy into the kind of protest rap I thought he was too real for. ("Crutches, Crosses, Caskets," "Retribution") *
Travis Scott: Rodeo (Epic/Grand Hustle) I await the blessed day when Vincent Vazquez or Angel Del Villar II taps this wellspring of comfy hooks in the service of a rhyme about butter almond ice cream or improving our city parks. ("90210," "3500") *