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American Teens, American Dreams: Robert Christgau on Khalid and Kevin Abstract

The Dean also takes on new records from Sampha and Kingdom.

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 the Village 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, read his welcome post; for four decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.

Khalid: American Teen (RCA) Deft line by deft line, each self-evident, each unprecedented, the first half of this R&B album justifies its title with a clarity and candor so astonishing it overshadows the music's racial identity: "I'm 18 and I still live with my parents," "Young dumb broke high school kids," "Let's do all the stupid shit that young kids do," "There's so much trouble to get into," "I don't want to fall in love off of subtweets," "I'll keep your number saved," "I let the words come together/Then maybe I'll feel better," and most tellingly of all, "We don't always say what we mean." Second half is skillful but conventional—seven succinct, catchy unrequited love songs all in a row. Khalid Robinson sings in a winning conversational murmur with room for growth, and because the vocals are as unassuming as the words, the song structures he concocts with various pals and pros seems more straightforward than they are. Figure this is a nice young man with a big future, and hope with all your heart that the latter doesn't swallow up the former before we know it. A

Kevin Abstract: American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story (Brockhampton) The parents of its intended audience might recognize a P.M. Dawn vibe in this 20-year-old's teen-targeted pop/rap concept album about a confused young middle-class black male's requited love for a white football player. His mom's homophobia includes kids who sometimes think they're bisexual like her boy; his inamorato's parents are down with the gays but "hate niggers"; his boyfriend has a girlfriend too. So of course sometimes he hates himself, as in: "I hate my yearbook photo/I hate my passport/I hate my last name/I hate everything it stands for/[wait, he's not done] I should probably transfer." But other times he's transported instead, saved from himself by the love he shares. Here he raps, there he croons. Frank Ocean pal Michael Uzowuru is with him both ways. A MINUS

Honorable mentions:
Sampha: Process (Young Turks)
Beyoncé and Drake's go-to angel finds time for his own piano-rooted reflections, which between his unforced falsetto and his electronic atmospherics prove so intimate they're best-suited for headphones—good ones. ("Plastic 100°C," "Kora Sings") ** 

Kingdom: Tears in the Club (Fade to Mind) With big help from some singers he knows, Syd in particular, "disruptive" "post-club" DJ- soundscaper lowers himself to living room level. ("Nothing," "Breathless") *

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