The Dean taps into Chicago's vibrant new music scene, and sees if ClammyClams has still got it.
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.
Vic Mensa: There's Alot Going On (self-released) The Spotify hit on this seven-track placeholder for Mensa's Roc Nation debut is, what a surprise, its sole sex track: I'll tie you up, you bring Kiki along, etc. But give him credit for ignoring the crack trade—his drug songs are cautionary tales about Adderall addiction and dropping acid in the studio. Credit too for the shape and spark he found rejoining producer and homeboy Papi Beatz. And all respect to "16 Shots," a Black Lives Matter anthem from a Chicagoan still outraged at the murder of Laquan McDonald so many police murders ago. The biracial son of a Ghanaian economics professor, Mensa isn't as smart as he thinks he is—"Everybody tryna be American idols/My X factor is I'm the only one with the voice" is supposed to be clever? But he's made something of his advantages, confessing and accusing in street language that doesn't downplay his literacy, articulating so conversationally you'd think he was just talking to ya. And he's definitely smart enough to know that the most riveting words here are spoken without rhyme or rhythm by McDonald's lawyer, Jeffrey Nuslund—69 seconds impassively, objectively describing every brutal detail of a videotaped attack that took so much less time than that. A MINUS
Joey Purp: iiiDrops (self-released) From Chicago and topped on this overdue mixtape only by the inevitable cameo from the unbeatable Chance the Rapper, Purp achieves the tricky street-versus-conscious balancing act bobbled by J. Cole and Vince Staples alike. Raw sequence indicates what we'd figure—that this is an ex-dealer if that. Basically he just rhymes as a striver from a place where avenues of advancement are few, dropping a mean verse about a nine-to-five he had once along the way. He craves brands and chases pussy; he worries about his daughter and his grandma and his brother dying in prison; he disses hood fatalism and black-on-black crime; he keeps growing without making a big deal of it. So why shouldn't my favorite jam-as-jam here have "her on the camera going down in the photobooth"? He almost makes it seem like fun. A MINUS
Vic Mensa: Innanetape (self-released) Pronounced as in "internet," not "inane," a word I guarantee was known to this more verbal than musical MC back when he was making his bones on a premature mixtape ("Yap Yap," "Tweakin") ***
DJ Shadow: The Mountain Will Fall (Mass Appeal) His best since The Private Press is a sound effects record by comparison, heavy on first-rate texture, rumble, and of course beats ("Nobody Speak," "The Mountain Will Fall," "Mambo") ***
Clams Casino: 32 Levels (Columbia) Major label backs beatmaker-soundscaper's demo reel! ("Be Somebody" featuring A$AP Rocky and Lil B," "All Nite" featuring Vince Staples) **