The Dean reviews the latest from Beyoncé, Kevin Gates, A$AP Ferg, and Azealia Banks.
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.
Beyoncé: Lemonade (Columbia) So we know this would-be soundtrack functions musically as an art-soul concept album, right? Groove, flow, funk, that stuff? Present, sure, but only as part of ye olde aesthetic whole, and not the fundamental part. Nor, for that matter, are songs the fundamental part, because they're all also dramas, performances, LP-á-clef puzzle pieces. In fact, with the artist injecting a thought-through quantum of pained, proud, gritty, airy, furious, nostalgic, or conciliatory "feeling" into each line, the songwriting per se can seem like a stitched-together afterthought. So it's to Beyoncé's credit that only in the pivotal big ballad, which really is called "Sandcastles," plus maybe the loving midtempo de facto finale "All Night," does all this overstatement become too much for a Billie Holiday fan like me. Less to her credit is that said fan spent a solid week reaching this conclusion. He doesn't deny it was worth it. But Beyoncé itself he got quicker and will always prefer. A MINUS
Kevin Gates: Islah (Atlantic) There's so much criminal detail here I believe he has a dope income stream as well as a musical income stream, but unlike the usual trap street soldier, he's not hard. There's so much sexual detail here I believe his dick is long and he can go all night, but unlike the usual R&B smarm merchant, he's not smooth. He's just ready. There's barely a wasted track on a major-label bid that has more hooks than a Temptations best-of and more moods than a four-year-old at Disneyland. Do I like everything he says, much less puts on Instagram? Not close. But his saga is an encouraging, fascinating, educational up. This is a guy who always brings his daughter on tour and thinks affluence is a big day at Bloomingdale's. He's emotional, tender, violent, sensual, fickle, determined, fatalistic, unpredictable, unreliable, hedonistic, and from Louisiana. In a land of 10,000 wannabes, he's an original. And his only cameo is a Trey Songz throwaway on the "deluxe." C'mon, people. Who needs Trey Songz with Kevin Gates ready to cry his heart out, rub your aching feet, and put his finger up your booty? A MINUS
A$AP Ferg: Always Strive and Prosper (Polo Grounds/RCA) When you're dealing language, the payoff is in the details, which is why his family seems so much realer than his cars ("Psycho," "Grandma") ***
Azealia Banks: Slay-Z (self-released) Seriously fluent, seriously flaky rapper as the dancefloor diva you love more than her beats—or, obviously, her tweets. ("Along the Coast," "The Big Big Beat") **