Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Kool A.D.

  • 51 [Greedhead download, 2012] B+
  • 19 [Bandcamp download, 2013] *
  • 63 [Bandcamp download, 2013] A-
  • Not O.K. [Bandcamp download, 2013] B+
  • Word O.K. [Bandcamp download, 2014] A

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

51 [Greedhead download, 2012]
Heems's Das Racist partner favors skinnier, more electro beats, most by his Bay Area compadre Amaze 88, which he loops under raps that carry more weight on this April mixtape than they did on The Palm Wine Drinkard just a few months before--as do the cameos from Mr. Rogers and a chipmunked Huey P. Newton. True, the record shudders to a virtual halt when the ecumenical auteur turns beatmaker midway through, and some may judge the rhymes irresponsibly playful. But he's right about "Yo these girls are smart man/I'm trying to figure out how to play my part man/I don't know how to start man/The strangest organ is the human heart man/Fuck with shortcuts like I'm Robert Altman/Fuck with long shots like I'm Robert Altman/Fuck with actresses like I'm Robert Altman/Recycled like half a verse but that's art man." That is art. B+

19 [Bandcamp download, 2013]
Hip-hop as clever conversation--gallery-rap ("All Skreets," "Marine World Africa") *

63 [Bandcamp download, 2013]
Released simultaneously with 19 in early 2013, this is the one that goes down easy. Perpetually amused and perpetually ticked off, unusually well-informed even though he doesn't read enough, his congenially stoned, organically radical, holistically pro-life flow defines without dominating a cast of nearly two dozen, including a couple of junior pimps keeping it whatever they keep it. Few tracks maintain like the picaresque jingle "Airplane Flight" or the Kanyefied autobiography "Exotische Kunst." But every one keeps on bullshittin'. Hip-hop as good conversation. Dinner-rap with PSAs. A-

Not O.K. [Bandcamp download, 2013]
From the beatless two-finger-piano-plus-sine-wave opener to the minimalist-piano-plus-brushes closer, you'll believe Victor Vazquez is deploying the weirder half of the sessions from which he'll construct two albums. The beats are funkier but never aggressively danceable--synth whistles, skeletal syndrum snatches, organ parts, sandpaper vinyl noise. And the raps are in Spanish and French as well as English, as befits a guy who claims Michael Ondaatje, believes Leonard Maltin and Rick Ross belong in successive 16s, and leads his own prayer circle. B+

Word O.K. [Bandcamp download, 2014]
After releasing six mixtapes between February 2013 and March 2014, the multicultural who broke up Das Racist rested, and this was a good place to stop--a culmination, temporary or maybe not. Splitting the difference between modest confidence and cool diffidence, he claims "best rapper in the world" as a joke because these days a joke is a lot better than nothing if it's brainy and benevolent and keeps you in food, shelter, and airplane travel. Old materials you won't mind hearing again are recycled occasionally. First-string cameo providers Lady Bug, Talib Kweli, and Del the Funkee Whatever add class. Amaze 88 and the beatmaking corps keep the flow relaxed, strange, and thrift-store lush. Near the end of the opening "Open Letter," this best rapper in the world tosses off a metaphor that rhymes with "metaphor": "If you headed for a wall you better set a course through a door." Clearly, that's what he thinks he's done. Here's hoping that door either stays open or led him into a room where he can get his work done when he's in the mood. A