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Robert Christgau on Lupe Fiasco, Meek Mill, Lil Wayne, and Vince Staples

The Dean of American Rock Critics dives into a clutch of recent hip-hop releases.

by Robert Christgau
Dec 21 2018, 6:01pm

L: Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images
C: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for BET
R: Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images

The self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics," Robert Christgau was one of the pioneers of music criticism as we know it—the music editor of the Village Voice from 1974 to 1985 and its chief music critic for several decades after that. At the Voice he created both the annual Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll and his monthly Consumer Guides. Christgau was one of the first critics to write about hip-hop and the only one to review Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water with one word: "Melodic." He taught at New York University between 1990 and 2016, and has published six books, including his 2015 memoir Going Into the City. A seventh, Is It Still Good to Ya?: Fifty Years of Rock Criticism 1967-2017, is now available from Duke University Press. Every Friday we run Expert Witness, the weekly version of the Consumer Guide he launched in 2010. To find out more, read his welcome post; for almost five decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website .

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Lupe Fiasco: Drogas Wave (1st & 15th) It's pretentious to complain that this musically agile, intellectually ambitious rapper has undertaken a concept trilogy that doesn't justify its pretensions. Really, why pretend there was any chance it would? Instead honor the two uncommon things this second installment does accomplish. First is a flow that never falters no matter how dense the themes—a flow that accommodates such verbiage as "conjurer" and "iridescent," "breach" and "havoc," "synonym" and "anthropomorphic," "industrialist" and "socialism." The second is that among these two dozen good-to-excellent tracks are at least four whose pitch of emotion and ambition render them something like profound: "WAV Files," which constructs a stanza from the names of slave ships, "Down," which creates a mythology of subaquatic African immortals consigned to the sea by shipwreck or their own leaps of faith, and alternate-universe biographies of two children cut down before they'd barely begun their lives, the drowned refugee "Alan Forever" and the street-slain innocent "Jonylah Forever." Fiasco should interrogate his weakness for consumer goods and study anti-Semitism's meaning as a term and history as a blight on humanity. But we're lucky the big label dumped him, and he is too. A MINUS

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Meek Mill: Championships (Maybach Music Group) This post-prison freedom cry is a 19-track marathon whose beats rise and fall while a solid third of its rhymes expand on Mill's unsought status as a case study in the racism of the parole system. If only it didn't also return tediously to the females he's fucked, who by actual count occasion almost 90 reps of the slurs "bitch" and "hoe," five times as many as the affectionate "shawty"/"girl"/"mami." He does at least seem to savor their bodies sometimes, which is never a given. But he sounds far more motivated pointing out that that's rapper cash not dealer cash before Jay-Z unfurls his deepest billionaire brag to date, or delivering the hard hood truths of "Oodles O' Noodles Babies." And "100 Summers" builds to a quatrain that identifies and then contextualizes the enemy within: "Grew up 'round them monsters they'll shoot you in your face / Ain't used to showin' no love that's 'cause we grew up in that hate / Live by the sword die by the sword way / Tried to make it home they shot him in the hallway." B PLUS

Lil Wayne: Tha Carter V (Young Money) No throwaway or overreach, but after all that drama not near enough fun either ("Problems," "Mess," "Mona Lisa") ***

Lupe Fiasco: Drogas Light (1st & 15th) Light it is, miscellaneous too, but only dumbbells make light of his skills, and few rappers you think you like more have managed anything as tragic or comic, respectively, as its two undeniables ("NGL," "Jump") **

Vince Staples: FM! (Def Jam) It is my sad duty to report that he's a lot better at tragedy than comedy ("Feels Like Summer," "Fun!") *

Follow Robert Christgau on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Noisey US.