Chance the Rapper and Friends Count Their Blessings: Expert Witness with Robert Christgau

'Surf' recalls the Beach Boys six months before 'Pet Sounds' and 60 years before Cali turned firetrap.

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Sep 25 2015, 2:00pm

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.

Continued below.

Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment: Surf (free)

At a moment when conscious rap has never had more reason to be militant, Chance the Rapper, his man with a horn, and friends near and far count their blessings, to borrow an idiom one Saba invokes immediately before his uncle on house arrest dies in his sleep. Not by chance does Chance lead with one called "Miracle," because the title ain't no joke—the mood does in fact recall the Beach Boys of, say, six months before Pet Sounds and 60 years before Cali turned firetrap. Like Broken Social Scene with more swing and deeper soul, most of these young adults are making decent livings making good music, quite a few are better off than that, and all of them are so glad about it they infuse even their warnings about open windows and Migos videos with an airy lyricism that evokes Digable Planets, PM Dawn, and Jon Hassell himself. This is an album where Big Sean and B.o.B. reflect separately and ruefully on their high school careers, where Erykah Badu plays den mother and sage, where Bustah Rhymes figures "This whole planet belongs to me/We all feel the same so it belongs to we," where I haven't even mentioned the should-be hit. It's called "Sunday Candy" and it comes at the end. A

Paris: Pistol Politics (Guerrilla Funk)

The Bush killa switched from rapper to stockbroker circa Y2K, made a modest fortune, then returned to music self-financed and angrier than ever. America? "We lead the world in only three categories-number of characters locked up, number of grown folks who believe angels are real, and defense spending." Obama? "They hate 'cause he black. We hate 'cause he wrong." And those are mere cappers. Like Boots Riley, Paris rhymes over the kind of old-fashioned funk favored in the East Bay from Too Short to Lyrics Born, inveighing knowledgeably for an hour and a half against the capitalism he knows so well as he drops his own brand of street science-try "Side Effect," about thugging without health insurance, "Murder Suit," about funeral wear, "Truce Music," about ending hostilities best redirected, "Bring That Slap Back," about armed self-defense. Of course I don't "agree" with everything he says. Do I "agree" with Lil Wayne? Anyway, usually I do. A MINUS

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STS X RJD2: STS X RJD2 (RJ's Electrical Connections) Consciously good-humored Atlanta-to-Philly Sugar Tongue Slim cajoles seriously conscious Philly beatmaker ("Hold On, Here It Go," "Do It Right") ***

Akrobatik: Built to Last (Playaktion) Nice guy almost dies, lives to rap about it ("Alive," "Let's Keep It Goin'") **

P.K. (Park Kultury): Get Lost (H.S.I.) Screwed-and-chopped the natural way-they rap in Russian ("True La La," "Boss Obama") **

Public Enemy: Man Plans God Laughs (Spitdigital) Pained, somewhat congealed, they soldier on ("Give Peace a Damn," "Mine Again") *

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