Long Beach Lingers: Expert Witness with Robert Christgau

The Dean tackles the latest hip-hop from Vince Staples, Aesop Rock, and Homeboy Sandman.

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Dec 18 2015, 9:25pm

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.

Aesop Rock & Homeboy Sandman: Lice (Rhymesayers/Stones Throw)

This five-track freebie reveals itself back-to-front. While the lead "Vertigo" never quite straightens up and flies right, you'll be grabbed by the closing "Get a Dog"'s hypnotic Charles Hamilton electrovamp even before Homeboy's irresistible "Yo, if you're scared get a dog, yo. Get a strong—like a, like a Rottweiler or a, a boxer dog, not a, a Pomeranian dog." And while both the anti-wack jokes of the peppy "Katz" and the freak sociology of the echoing "Environmental Studies" run deep, the prize is the penultimate "So Strange Here," as soulful a reflection on the disorientations of B-list tour-or-get-a-day-job as you can think of offhand. Each rapper has his own memories and gripes. But each goes out the same: "I know it sounds strange but strange beats normal." A MINUS


Vince Staples: Hell Can Wait (Def Jam)

Thematically, there's not much new on this LA mixtape fixture's major-label debut. Nor is he much of an image-slinger. But he's so hard-hitting, so direct, so concise, and before too long so hooky too. Yeah, he does bleed Crip blue (or is that clue, it's so bonfusing). But the compact lucidity with which this EP details the ups and downs of the drug trade and warns women off his money feels less like advocacy, celebration, or autobiography than street reporting. And his best lines rise up when Ferguson moves him to something resembling political speech: "They expect respect and nonviolence/I refuse the right to be silent." A MINUS


Vince Staples: Summertime '06 (Def Jam)

Staples's argument is, first, that the thug life was forced on him, not merely because he grew up on the wrong side of Long Beach but because his parents were gangbangers, and second, that white America is invested in the thug life, via not just the systemic racism that keeps African-Americans down but the systemic sensationalism of white hip-hop fans scarfing up gangsta horrorshow. As a white hip-hop fan who's resisted every thug coup d'art since the Wu-Tang Clan (who were major, I was wrong, but I hate guns and I hate sexism and I'd rather be wrong than tag along), I believe the sensationalism is more ironic than causal except perhaps insofar as gangsta swagger impresses boys in the hood who might otherwise settle for the crap jobs staying in school is good for. But give Staples credit—he doesn't swagger. He's always hard, often impassive, occasionally callous, but never brutal or mean, and nothing in his rhymes, flow, or beats boasts or romanticizes. What good that'll do who knows. But he's not part of any problem I can see. As thug coups d'art go, this takes Rick Ross to court, renders Freddie Gibbs more unnecessary than he already is, and is hella cooler than Iceberg Slim. B PLUS

Lady Leshurr: Mona Leshurr (Gutter Strut) Beats high-functional, articulation pure soprano, rhymes dancehall boom-bap once removed, best of many giggles her delight in the word "schmuck" ("Yippy Yay," "Freak," "Boom Bam") ***

A$AP Rocky: At.Long.Last.A$AP (Polo Grounds/RCA) '60s-besotted entertainer pays a '60s-begotten entertainer formerly long ago as Rod the Mod for his most entertaining track ("Everyday," "Max B") **

Big Grams: Big Grams (Epic) Big Boi, Run the Jewels, Skrillex, and, oh yeah, omnipresent electropop duo Phantogam do their bit for why can't we all get along ("Lights On," "Drum Machine") **

Homeboy Sandman: White Sands (Stones Throw) The lesser verse of Angel Del Villar II, best at its happiest and grimmest ("Fat Belly," "Echoes") *

Follow Robert Christgau on Twitter and read the archives of his criticism on his website.