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Middle Eastern Rap to Jewish Southern Folk: Expert Witness with Robert Christgau

A variety of records, including Algiers and Sleaford Mods.
November 13, 2015, 5:42pm

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.


I was gripped by the music on this daunting Arabic rap compilation even when I had no idea exactly what they were protesting about, and 37 downloaded pages of political imagery and invective sealed the deal. The beats simply loop Middle Eastern tunelets over trap figures and scratches that aren't quite funky. But having long ago acclimated to Arabic scales and grooves, I find the hooks unusual and varied, the percussion muscular and beatwise, and the rapping novel and musical—Arabic gutturals are perfect for protest hip-hop. And translated though the lyrics are, they establish that we're not just imagining all that unleashed intensity and righteous rage. From Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, a few of the rappers are also journalists or literary men, but more seem street and/or activist and not a one is remotely Islamist. In fact, many don't even bother to mention the Israeli interlopers stuck in their craw or the Yankee dollars fattening the old autocrats and new opportunists they despise—those issues are assumed. Starter tracks: Touffar's unforgiving "Min Al Awal (From the Beginning)," El Far31's unruly "Harra (The Street)," El Rass's strategic "Foosh (Float)," and—harrowing—LaTlateh's nightmarish "Boov." A MINUS


A full-time folkie and part-time violin salesman who plays half a dozen instruments and gigs with more bands than that, Rubin sings and sometimes jokes about the kind of marginality he knows too well. "No More for You" and "Key Chain Blues" sum up the new poverty in new ways. Klezmer sex tips join a jolly Gil Scott-Heron singalong and a "Murder of Leo Frank" that specifies Fiddlin' John Carson's role in that anti-Semitic lynching. "Why Am I Trying to Kill Myself?" and "Seriously aka Too Much Weed" take Mark Rubin himself to task. Opener and closer go out and have a good time anyway. A MINUS


Sleaford Mods: Chubbed Up + (Ipecac) Hating the class system and making it sound like hating everything ("Pubic Hair Ltd," "Jobseeker") ***

Neil Young + Promise of the Real: The Monsanto Years (Reprise) Anyone who claims the ideas are boring has his ass in the sand—“Too big to fail" duh, "Too rich to jail" good save—but musically Neil's ass is dragging too ("People Want to Hear About Love," "Big Box") **

Algiers: Algiers (Matador) Industrial-strength gospel grunge good enough for and better than the politics of rage ("But She Was Not Flying," "And When You Fall") **

Sleaford Mods: Key Markets (Harbinger) The message being that only those ready to give up the transient pleasure of a good tune are ready to confront the meaninglessness of their neoliberal-capitalist lives ("Giddy on the Ciggies," "Face to Faces") *

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