The self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics," Robert Christgau was one of the pioneers of music criticism as we know it. He was the music editor at the Village Voice for almost four decades where he created the trusted annual Pazz & Jop Poll. He was one of the first mainstream critics to write about hip-hop and the only one to review Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water with one word: "Melodic." On top of his columns, he has published six books, including his 2015 autobiography, Going Into the City. He currently teaches at New York University. Every week, we publish Expert Witness, his long-running critical column. To find out more about his career, read his welcome post; for four decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.
Joey Bada$$: All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ (Pro Era/Cinematic Music Group) Interrupting a catalogue that's essentially an ongoing autobiography to preach to the disenfranchised in the year of the coup, it makes sense for Flatbush's finest to reverse the normal hip-hop sequencing strategy of starting raw and sneaking in anything soft or conscious at the end. The first half here starts almost sweet, cushioning such messages as "In the land of the free it's full of freeloaders / Leave us dead in the street to be their organ donors" but also "Tryna stay alive and just stay peaceful" with crooning, chorales, r&b grooves. Still, I get happier myself when six street-flavored tracks toughen the second half up and cameos change it up: guttural Meechy Darko, Chronixx representing for Ethiopia, Schoolboy Q leaving his penis out of this. And while real-versus-fake brags are beyond tired, a rhymer this literate has a right to go after the "ad lib rapping" of Soundcloud freestylers, especially while scoring points like "I need dead presidents to represent me / Cause I never knew a live one that represent me" and "Nowadays they hangin' us by a different tree / Branches of the government / I can name all three." Inspirational Verse: "Fuck Donald Trump." A MINUS
Playboi Carti: Playboi Carti (AWGE/Interscope) If Migos are the Beatles, this diamond-collecting pretty boy crosses the Raspberries and the Archies. A pimp-identified Blood or vice versa whose idea of social consciousness is not to drink lean and drive and whose idea of a thrill is meeting Raf Simons (look it up, I had to), he is definitely, like they type, FUN. His playful flow careless of consonants, Carti makes exactly as much as he should of spare beats that ease from the faux flute of "dothatshit!" to the faux rhinoceros-huff of "Lame Niggaz." Nahmean? A MINUS
Big K.R.I.T.: 4eva Is a Long Time (Multi Alumni) His generic superstar dreams as over as his Def Jam deal, he's free to make the most of the friendly drawl, good heart, and garden-variety ambition we went for to begin with ("Bury Me in Gold," "Big Bank") ***
Eminem: Revival (Aftermath/Shady/Interscope/Goliath) Much cleverer than lemmings claim, bluntly and intelligently political too, but so received in its cartoon misogyny and pop grandeur you know he felt irrelevance bearing down even before #MeToo killed this album on the vine ("Untouchable," "Chloraseptic," "Like Home") **
Vic Mensa: The Autobiography (Roc Nation) Moderately fluent rapper and observant storyteller reminds us yet again that conscious brothers dog around too ("Down for Some Ignorance," "Heaven on Earth") **
Follow Robert Christgau on Twitter.