The Dean reviews the latest releases from Chance The Rapper, Aesop Rock, Lecrae, and Mr. Lif.
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.
Chance the Rapper: Coloring Book (self-released) An atheist till death takes me home to nowhere, I nonetheless welcome the gospel emphasis here—larger than Kanye's, larger than goddamn Lecrae's—for how it warms Chance's tone of voice and sense of family. The irrepressible cheer of his vocals has always lit up his music. But reaccess Acid Rap and notice how whiny his timbre gets sometimes—charming, always, but immature. Here the death of his grandma (who told him he was "kosher" why, exactly?) and the birth of his daughter (joint custody not wedlock; too bad) make a man out of him vocally—that adolescent thing is a memory. And the many church singers who pile on mellow melodicism and cultural affirmation broaden his vocal muscle and instill pitch control. His cheer remains irrepressible, and essential. But it's gained weight, even beauty. A
Aesop Rock: The Impossible Kid (Rhymesayers) Indubitably brilliant, indubitably self-referential, Aes has exorcised his depressive demons with admirable tenacity since 2001. But for me the charm of his vast vocabulary, Google-ready references, and indecipherable significations wore off before he was 30, so it was mainly his ace collaborations with Kimya Dawson and Homeboy Sandman that inspired me to cue this up. Just two plays in I was loving a bunch of tracks: about his brothers, his shrink, his kitten, the passed-forward tattoos and dreadlocks of young servers at Baskin-Robbins and the local juice place, and his tour of duty with the neighborhood varmint patrol. Since all these songs were uncommonly literal for Aes, I wasn't surprised when the rest proved harder to parse. But this being an artist for whom catchy is about meanings rather than hooks, I was happy enough to try. A MINUS
Mr. Lif: Don't Look Down (Mello Music) Still articulating every word in his forties, he drops rationalist science and life-or-death mysticism over loops he's proud are old-school ("Pounds of Pressure," "Mission Accomplished") **
Lecrae: Church Clothes 3 (self-released) So when exactly does Kanye tap him for a cameo? ("Gangland," "Can't Do You") *