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Robert Christgau Reviews Quelle Chris' Crisis Raps

The Dean of American Rock Critics also offers his take on a pair of records by alt-rap mainstays Epic Beard Men.

by Robert Christgau
May 17 2019, 4:43pm

Photo by Vashni Korin

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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Quelle Chris: Guns (Mello Music) The Detroit indie-rapper has always stuck in comradely cameos and comic bits in a Mafia accent. So of course there are diversions on this album. Yet it feels like it's all about G-U-N-S guns even when it isn't, as in "Mind Ya Bidness," which packs nothing but blunts, and the lead "Spray and Pray," which undercuts its "We load up, lift, and shoot" refrain with a "turn in they AKs for 401Ks" dissent. Ostensibly it's multiracial, too—where the action in both those tracks is located in black America, "Sunday Mass" names Nikolas C., Devin K., Stephen P., Omar M., Syed F., and Aaron A. before getting to Dylann R., and isn't it a mitzvah that most of us have already deprived these monsters of the infamy they craved by forgetting the surnames Quelle doggedly pronounces? But his toughest rhyme offers a concise racial analysis: "Monkeys who gang bang chained to the streets/Honkies with gang brain armed to the teeth." And to assure us that good things are possible even in a crisis, he joins wife Jean Grae for one of hip-hop's realest love songs before saying sayonora. A MINUS

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Epic Beard Men: This Was Supposed to Be Fun (Strange Famous) On their second why-the-fuck-not, hirsutely sub-elderly Rhode Island alt-rap careerists-without-a-cause Sage Francis, 42, and B. Dolan, 38, do their bit for class consciousness by rhyming about their work life. All their stories are grotty. But "Circle the Wagons," with its stashed body, jailhouse locale, and litany of "What did you do?"s, is its only gangsta moment. And transgressively raw though these beardos are, they're also comedians: try "Shin Splints," about racing to make a flight, or "Pistol Dave," about a dirtbag who couldn't even hack the low-level job they had the heart to give him? And then there's "Hedges," where an ex-GI moves in next to a schlubby liberal and they're both paranoid because why shouldn't they be? A MINUS

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Quelle Chris: Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often (Mello Music) Persona-morphing free for-all is sharpest when it's about himself—not counting his wife-to-be's best-in-show, that is. ("The Prestige," "Fascinating Grass") **

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Epic Beard Men: Season 1 (Strange Famous) So much more interesting when they scorn the rich and let their scene's hustlers pursue their pathetic scams and dreams away from the spotlight. ("Shotgun Golf," "War on Christmas [2017]") *