Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Red Hot + Riot [MCA, 2002]
The latest AIDS-benefit disc is a Fela tribute, and also the best since the Cole Porter tribute that kicked the series off in 1990. If you figure it'll reimagine Fela as a songwriter, as I did, figure again--Cole Porter, he was a songwriter. Instead it establishes Fela's claim to funk godfatherhood more forcefully than any displaced Afrobeat ensemble. Sacrificed is Africa 70's clarity of motion. Gained are the head fakes and back-da-fuck-up that have always made funk beats harder for white people to understand than the four-fours rock and roll appropriated from John Philip Sousa and Chicago blues. Retained are Fela's horn sound, whether replicated whole by Femi's band or reconstituted by the likes of Roy Hargrove and Archie Shepp--and, most of the time, Tony Allen's deceptively light groove. You know how multi-produced hip hop albums hold together sometimes? This is even subtler. A-