Robert Christgau on Hip-Hop's Most Complete New Yorker Since Heems (or Nas)
The Dean of American Rock Critics reviews Princess Nokia's '1992 Deluxe,' Sheer Mag's 'Need to Feel Your Love,' and Margo Price's 'All American Made.'
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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 find out more about his career, read his welcome post ; for four decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.
Princess Nokia: 1992 Deluxe (Rough Trade) Her album title her birth year, this Afrocentric "Jewish Puerto Rican" is already an established alt-rap fashionista who tours profitably under her own advisement. Putting her music across on a girlish flow free of tough-bitch macho-once-removed, she keeps her beats amateurish and minimal even when they flirt with trap grandeur. Not that she isn't tough—there's viral video of her dousing a racist drunk with hot soup on the L train. Claiming bruja and goth, tomboy and ho, foster kid and class clown, Harlem and Tompkins Square, she's the most complete New Yorker to hit hip-hop since Heems if not Nas. A
Sheer Mag: Need to Feel Your Love (Wilsuns RC) The radical rabble-rousers' first full album is a good one for sure, but a misconception must be addressed. On record, at least, Tina Halladay does not have a "big voice"—a "gruff" "yowl" or "wailing typhoon." She's narrow and high-pitched, her intensity harder to take at 43 or indeed 26 minutes than at the 14 of her band's three EPs. I mention 26 because that marks the spot where the most fetching song here swallows the problem whole. It's a "disco" number called "Pure Desire" that departs from her fellas' '70s-band aesthetic only if you don't remember what a hell of a '70s band Chic was—a minor masterpiece that conveys how horny and consuming it can be just to lie next to someone you want to fuck. Elsewhere she craves love and defies authority in the equal measure that makes people want to overrate this band. Risk disco, guys. Maybe non-Berniacs will start getting the message. A MINUS
Margo Price: All American Made (Third Man) For anyone who calls herself country to blame women's troubles on "rich white men" is a miraculous thing, as is a title closer that remembers when "Reagan was selling weapons to the leaders of Iran." But singing a lyric isn't the same as driving it home, and she should never have removed the echo from a soft-edged soprano that needs all the vulgarity it can enact. I admire the one she has the brass to call "Pay Gap." But I respond more naturally to the losing-the-farm saga "Heart of America," which blames "the big banks" like it should, and the self-determined "Loner," which warns "You get what you pay for, sometimes you pay twice." So let's just call her a folkie, shall we? That way we can be sure we're getting what we paid for. B PLUS
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