Robert Christgau on Khalid's Textured Anxiety

The Dean of American Rock Critics reviews Khalid's 'Free Spirit' and 'Suncity,' as well as recent albums from 6LACK, Kyle, and Fat Tony.

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Apr 19 2019, 4:22pm

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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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6lack: East Atlanta Love Letter (LVRN/Interscope) The only rapper ever to snugli his daughter on his CD cover starts his second album raunchy and then, with moral suasion aforethought, gets over it. "No shit, I treat my dick like a loaded gun/Point that shit away, these hoes gonna blow what comes," goes track two, and for a while he wonders whether his girl loves him enough to warrant giving that up. But over 14 tuneful R&B-raps, the answer is a yes so convincing that not only do Khalid and J. Cole shore up his slow songs but Future and Offset throw in a rhyme or two. The convincers, however, are the three women who get their say. There's Tierra Whack: "Dick is a distraction." There's LightSkinKeisha: "He ain't gonna fuck with me sometimes, he gon' fuck with me all motherfucking times, period." And best of all there's the empathetic Mereba: "You were never taught how to say loving things and caring things/You were just taught what had to be said." A MINUS

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Khalid: Free Spirit (RCA) Stuck with the impossible task of maintaining the matter-of-fact candor that made his debut a teenpop milestone, the double-platinum 21-year-old is too smart to try—and also too decent to sink to the male entitlement and wages-of-fame angst Biebs and so forth fobbed off on their legions. Right, he's not only getting laid and enjoying his new house in Encino, he's also having trouble adjusting to success. Some might even call him anxious. But he retains the gift of expressing his feelings in songs that cut star-time inevitabilities down to human scale. So however beyond us his privileges and woes may be, we at least feel we share a species with the guy—truisms like "Couldn't have known it would ever be this hard," "I didn't text you because I was workin'," and "If the love feels good it'll work out" are hardly exclusive to the rich and famous. Note, however, that because Khalid now enjoys access to pricier musical materials than when he was in high school, the hooks pack more texture than tune, making this the rare album that comes fully into its own when you up the volume. A MINUS

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Kyle: Light of Mine (Independently Popular/Atlantic) Best innocent act in r&b, with girlish female cameos nailing two fetching numbers. ("Ikuyo," "Games") ***

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Khalid: Suncity (RCA) In seven engaging-to-amorphous tracks but only five songs, hitmaking teen tries to figure out not life, not love, just what's left for him to say about them. ("Suncity," "Saturday Nights") ***

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Brockhampton: Iridescence (Everything/RCA) Plenty talent, sure; limitless ambition, absolutely; chart-topping major-label debut, fact; here's where it all comes together, nah. ("Weight," "J'Ouvert") **

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Fat Tony: 10,000 Hours (Don Giovanni) Sincere, smart Houston alt-rapper goes pop/r&b, which isn't as smart as it might be if tricking up the sincere with the cute doesn't come naturally. ("Charles," "Rumors") *