This story is over 5 years old.

'Prima Donna' and Young Thug's Name Is Actually Jeffery: Expert Witness with Robert Christgau

The Dean tackles Vince Staples, Young Thug, Rae Sremmurd, and more.

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 a number of books over his career including his autobiography, Going Into the City, which was released in 2015 to critical acclaim. He currently teaches at New York University. Every week, we publish Expert Witness, his long-running critical column. To read more about his career, read his welcome post; for four decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.


Vince Staples: Prima Donna (Def Jam) The Crip whose life was saved by DatPiff mixtapes proves how real his gangsta is by stressing on how bad it makes him feel. Wrecking his clipped, high-pitched flow with obsessive moans that don't stop and don't stop, he feels guilty about abandoning the street and guilty about the lives laid waste there. Two of the EP's six songs end by repeating the dejected refrains "Sometimes I feel like givin' up" and "Is it real is it real" well past their saturation points, while three others hammer away at "Born ready, war ready," "Pimp hand strong," and "We all waste away" like they're "Fuck tha police" or "Easy as one-two-three." The overall effect is admirably grim, with one essential exception: his very old friend Kilo Kish recalling their pre-K years. In this context, McDonald's birthday parties are so cute they're surreal. A MINUS

Young Thug: Jeffery (300/Atlantic) The one wan joke I noticed must have been so beside the point it slipped between the cracks, because now I can't find it. But here as never before, Black Portland included, the former Jeffery Lamar Williams makes black comedy out of irrepressible sound, cutting the fool with such delight that I found myself not just engaged but agape. Nude or digital, speaking or chanting, narrating or bragging, exclaiming or explaining, sobbing or gasping or chuckling or cackling, his hoohoos and melismas and blahs and mwas and frogcroaks and put-puts are the message. The nearest he comes to thematic embellishment is when he barks the keywords "work" and "earn" in the Rihanna song "RiRi," which in other respects is no more about the superstar than "Harambe" is about the gorilla. The main ostensible subjects are sex and luxury goods, and admit it—they both beat opioid addiction and killing people. A MINUS



Young Thug: Slime Season 3 (300/Atlantic) Best line is "Why not risk life when it's gon' keep goin'," which means pretty much what you think it means even if he doesn't mean it only we're not in this for the meanings—I hope ("With Them," "Drippin'") **

Young Thug: I'm Up (300/Atlantic) That "germ in it"/"worm in it" rhyme graces a Latinish number pledging his readiness to die for his "people," who we'll know when we see them ("F Cancer," "Family") **

Rae Sremmurd: SremmLife 2 (Eardrum/Interscope) Less excitable now that they've gotten used to the money—funny how that happens ("Do Yoga," "Real Chill") *

Follow Robert Christgau on Twitter.