Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Aesop Rock & Homeboy Sandman [extended]

  • Labor Days [Def Jux, 2001] A-
  • Daylight EP [Def Jux EP, 2001] A-
  • Bazooka Tooth [Definitive Jux, 2003] *
  • Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives [Definitive Jux, 2005] Choice Cuts
  • None Shall Pass [Definitive Jux, 2007] Dud
  • Nourishment (Second Helpings) [Boy Sand Industries, 2007] *
  • Actual Factual Pterodactyl [Boy Sand Industries, 2008] A-
  • The Good Sun [High Water Music, 2010] A-
  • Subject: Matter [Stones Throw download EP, 2012] A-
  • Chimera EP [Stones Throw EP, 2012] B+
  • First of a Living Breed [Stones Throw, 2012] A-
  • Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent [Stones Throw, 2013] B+
  • All That I Hold Dear [Stones Throw EP, 2013] ***
  • Hallways [Stones Throw, 2014] A-
  • White Sands [Stones Throw, 2014] *
  • Lice [Stones Throw EP, 2015] A-
  • Kindness for Weakness [Stones Throw, 2016] A-
  • The Impossible Kid [Rhymesayers Entertainment, 2016] A-
  • Lice Two: Still Buggin' [Rhymesayers/Stones Throw download EP, 2016] ***
  • Veins [Stones Throw, 2017] A-
  • Triple Fat Lice [Stones Throw EP, 2017] A-
  • Humble Pi [Stones Throw, 2018] A-
  • Dusty [Mello Music, 2019] **

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Aesop Rock: Labor Days [Def Jux, 2001]
Like most alt-rappers, he's got the logorrhea bad, and although he's figured out a lot for a 25-year-old, only a 21-year-old is gonna get that much smarter parsing every last detail of whatever the fuck he's talking about. But sometimes his meanings are there for the taking, as on the thematic "9-5ers Anthem," and the self-fulfilling "No Regrets," about an 87-year-old outsider artist on her obscure and happy deathbed. The beats have a subtle logic of their own, like the medina saxophone on one cut that sets up the heavenly houris on the next. And anybody (well, this being alt-rap, any heterosexual male) can use this Inspirational Verse: "Life's not a bitch/Life is a beautiful woman/You only call her a bitch because she won't let you get that pussy." A-

Aesop Rock: Daylight EP [Def Jux EP, 2001]
Less experimental beatwise than his boys, less literate bookwise than his rep, but, like his namesake, fabulously wise: "When I was 16 I was taping Bobbito and trying to find out who was newest and was trying to be the dopest, now I don't care if I'm the dopest." I don't know much about dope, I just know what I like: his beats, which average out to deep organ funk; his rhymes, which half-parse no matter how twisted; and his class consciousness--unlike "Bulletproof Wallets," his "Nickel Plated Pockets" are stuffed (they wish) with spare change. Title track gave us the great verse on Labor Days: "Life's not a bitch, life is a beautiful woman/You only call her a bitch because she won't let you get that pussy/Maybe she just didn't feel y'all shared similar interests/Maybe you're just an asshole who couldn't sweet-talk a princess." Second track makes her a biyutch and concludes: "Maybe you're just an asshole, and maybe I'm just an asshole." He isn't. He's dope. A-

Aesop Rock: Bazooka Tooth [Definitive Jux, 2003]
Fathomless beats an adventure, impenetrable lyrics a drag ("Babies With Guns," "Limelighters"). *

Aesop Rock: Fast Cars, Danger, Fire and Knives [Definitive Jux, 2005]
"Holy Smoke" Choice Cuts

Aesop Rock: None Shall Pass [Definitive Jux, 2007] Dud

Homeboy Sandman: Nourishment (Second Helpings) [Boy Sand Industries, 2007]
Penn grad and law-school dropout Angel Del Villar solidifies his career plans ("Kain News," "Us and Them"). *

Homeboy Sandman: Actual Factual Pterodactyl [Boy Sand Industries, 2008]
This logorrheic rhymer says he comes music first, which means extended loops from anywhere: speed-rock, roots dancehall, humming and whistling, Bach or somebody, Jon Hassell or somebody, Kenna nailing his Thom Yorke impression. On the one about the ill-fated mambo contest, there's a mambo; on "I-Tunes Song," there's an intrusive jingle. But though the loops have some jam and Kenna will never sound better, what sustains is the words. Some you'll get right away, others you'll let pass with your head spinning. But they'll be there waiting. Conscious enough, Homeboy loves to play, which greatly enhances his wisdom hear how "Or" arrays 200-odd "or" rhymes: "I am a sight for sore orbs/Flow like a cyborg albacore." Married to this hip-hop for richer or poorer, he's never been divorced. His brand of hip-hop is nothing like yours. A-

Homeboy Sandman: The Good Sun [High Water Music, 2010]
He's a believer--once withdrew from a freestyling contest rather than rhyme to a gunshot beat. He's a vegan who forswears cursewords and caffeine although not reefer, brags about how poor he is, and is avowedly "not pop." But he's no ascetic. His songs come equipped with brief melodic hooks, his rapid rhymes brim with delight, and from gravelly to singsong his flow is always ready for whatever comes next. Sandman has heard the insult knuckleheads aim at every rapper who makes them feel guilty: "Maybe you think I'm whinin' like BeBe and CeCe." But he knows he rhymes for love and for the fun of it, and so will you. A-

Homeboy Sandman: Subject: Matter [Stones Throw download EP, 2012]
He says this EP's subjects matter because no other hip-hopper has touched them, and except for the opener about his creative process, he's got a right, as in the one about his material possessions thatincludes his sock drawer. His beats stick, and even when he's merely rhyming there's a musicality there: "Carpe diem/As a.m. turn to the p.m./The zone I be in/Muy bien." From the grounded erotic obsession of "Unforgettable" to the down-in-the-flood nightmares of "Soap," he's got a vision. And nowhere is his subject matter more materialistic--philosophically, and maybe even dialectically--than in "Canned Goods": "Other food spoils much quicker/The spoils go to the victors." A-

Homeboy Sandman: Chimera EP [Stones Throw EP, 2012]
The beats on these six songs tend low and thrummy, less than catchy but they stick with you. The philosophical lyrics are braggier than usual, and in a touch I like, every damn one is reproduced on the cover of the vinyl version. First side, "I Do Whatever I Want" and especially "Cops Get Scared of Me" prove somewhat less than compelling. But the second begins with a a geopolitical analysis so much shrewder than the unpromising title "Illuminati" that the two excellent if lesser tracks that follow are, well, illuminated. B+

Homeboy Sandman: First of a Living Breed [Stones Throw, 2012]
Between speed of delivery and brevity of line, Sandman's nonstop tunefulness here tends jingly no matter how gritty his flow. So listen up, Goya Foods--he's a Dominican vegan with an old rhyme called "Canned Goods," and if you're real nice maybe he'll let you attach it to a garbanzo commercial. As a sucker for babies, let me praise the sample that runs through the "Wear Clean Draws" variant "For the Kids"; as an elder, let me remind those who've forgotten (as I had) that the treated verbalese of "Cedar & Sedgwick" namechecks the birthplace of hip-hop. Sandman's rhymes are so unfailing I wish he'd tell stories as well as pile on rhetoric, because rhetoric is harder to sustain at the level of interest he deserves. I also wish his best album didn't recycle one standout each from his two 2012 EPs. But there aren't many rappers who can top a strong collection with a progress report on their careers which credibly reports that the nicest thing about earning money is having more to give away and transforms a diffidently childish "not really" into a dynamite hook. I mean, what a boast: "Not really." A-

Homeboy Sandman: Kool Herc: Fertile Crescent [Stones Throw, 2013]
The guy who cashes "checks for packs of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked" is so skilled he risks being too smart for his own good--a little like Aesop Rock, except that a) he's not white and b) he's not an obscurantist. He wants to set his people on the right path and keeps thinking up explicit ways to say so. But none of them have gotten near that goal so far, not even theoretically, as they might if his skills included the ability to rise to actual hits, as opposed to pleasurable musicality, and also to sink to them. Not that that kind of skill comes any easier than the rhyming and rapping he's so good at. But I'm struck by my favorite song on this EP, "Lonely People," in which a raggedy "Eleanor Rigby" refrain flexes against verses that begin: "Look at all these wannabe famous people/All they talk about is famous people/Every statement be defaming people." True enough, obviously. But it makes me wonder whether fame is really something he's willing to go for. B+

Homeboy Sandman: All That I Hold Dear [Stones Throw EP, 2013]
"How can a artist make too much art?" ("Runts," "Relapse") ***

Homeboy Sandman: Hallways [Stones Throw, 2014]
After throwing down 34 straight long-"E" rhymes over a Philip Glass beat and cutting them short with a "Damn, I said 'street' before," the self-starter explains why America ain't so bad--legal protections and consumer goods that add up to "We are the 99 per cent locally/We are the one percent globally." And although the percentage is more like five for most Americans, the perspective is tonic from a man who's always been as class-conscious as alt-rap gets. Fine with me that he's no longer vegan. Fine with me that "Personal Ad" is a sex boast few this side of Jay-Z would have the cool or balls to pull off. A-

Homeboy Sandman: White Sands [Stones Throw, 2014]
The lesser verse of Angel Del Villar II, best at its happiest and grimmest ("Fat Belly," "Echoes") *

Lice [Stones Throw EP, 2015]
This five-track freebie reveals itself back-to-front. While the lead "Vertigo" never quite straightens up and flies right, you'll be grabbed by the closing "Get a Dog"'s hypnotic Charles Hamilton electrovamp even before Homeboy's irresistible "Yo, if you're scared get a dog, yo. Get a strong--like a, like a Rottweiler or a, a boxer dog, not a, a Pomeranian dog." And while both the anti-wack jokes of the peppy "Katz" and the freak sociology of the echoing "Environmental Studies" run deep, the prize is the penultimate "So Strange Here," as soulful a reflection on the disorientations of B-list tour-or-get-a-day-job as you can think of offhand. Each rapper has his own memories and gripes. But each goes out the same: "I know it sounds strange but strange beats normal." A-

Homeboy Sandman: Kindness for Weakness [Stones Throw, 2016]
Strictly on the down-low (is that the phrase?), Angel del Villar has recorded more quality long-players than anyone over the past decade. He's not a great--his sibilantly articulated flow just isn't as beautiful as Jay Z's, Lil Wayne's, or Nicki Minaj's. But when I wanted to demur mildly from his 2013 All That I Hold Dear, all I could do was quote his perturbed "How can an artist make too much art?" The answer is for the artist to fall in with a disrespected genre, as alt-rap seems doomed to remain, kinda like polka. His staccato three- and four-beat lines suit the rhyme-mad verbiage and moral directness you should love him for, and it's nice that he adds a common touch and a sense of humor. Highlights here are the lyrical "Heart Sings," the rousing "Real New York," the unrequited "Sly Fox," the religious "God," and the more religious "Speak Truth." Give him a fucking break, willya? A-

Aesop Rock: The Impossible Kid [Rhymesayers Entertainment, 2016]
Indubitably brilliant, indubitably self-referential, Aes has exorcised his depressive demons with admirable tenacity since 2001. But for me the charm of his vast vocabulary, Google-ready references, and indecipherable significations wore off before he was 30, so it was mainly his ace collaborations with Kimya Dawson and Homeboy Sandman that inspired me to cue this up. Just two plays in I was loving a bunch of tracks: about his brothers, his shrink, his kitten, the passed-forward tattoos and dreadlocks of young servers at Baskin-Robbins and the local juice place, and his tour of duty with the neighborhood varmint patrol. Since all these songs were uncommonly literal for Aes, I wasn't surprised when the rest proved harder to parse. But this being an artist for whom catchy is about meanings rather than hooks, I was happy enough to try. A-

Lice Two: Still Buggin' [Rhymesayers/Stones Throw download EP, 2016]
"I hated myself before it was cool," claims Aesop; "I'm looking for a mystery bigger than me to remedy," sez Homeboy, which is why I prefer him ("Oatmeal Cookies," "Mud") ***

Homeboy Sandman: Veins [Stones Throw, 2017]
Given how it signs off by wrapping "God" and "Speak Truth" around "Nonbelievers"' and its "light brown privilege" verse, 2016's 16-track, 40-minute Kindness for Weakness feels so much like a signature classic that this 10-track, 25-minute follow-up seems trifling despite its identical minutes-per-song ratio. But on both albums, Sand remains the most consistent song-crafter in whatever we're supposed to call the game he's playing. Accept his rat-a-tat delivery and his looplike beats and recognize how rarely he lets four lines pass without proving that "Every single morning I handle boredom by being born again." Never one "to waste time tryna be cute," he rocks his "Fila and Le Tigre on the Tigris and Euphrates," reads Moby Dick between sets, and delivers delight. If his flow and beats were a smidge more iconic, he'd epitomize the kind of major minor artistry Le Tigre--hell, Spoon or somebody--parlayed into legend. A-

Triple Fat Lice [Stones Throw EP, 2017]
On their third free EP in three years, Ace and Sand's permanent floating alliance for gravity defiance finds itself somewhere between "I hate you all" and "hungry for affection." While leading efforts to get the giant panda off the red list, they make sure you "find your keys before you cannot find your keys" and hustle up that kidney transplant you're waiting on. Yet they're always in the mood to play--to say anything they feel like as long as it feels good. How about rhyming "MMA," "lemonade," "emanate," and "Hemingway"? Can you get with "Don Mattingly mustache" and "naked lady mudflaps"? Would you go as far as "candelabra" and "blah-blah-blah-blah-blah blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah"? A-

Homeboy Sandman & Edan: Humble Pi [Stones Throw, 2018]
His beatmaking proudly utilitarian, his quick tetrameters and plosive rat-a-tat-tat too abrupt to fully earn the glorious old metaphor flow, the heroically consistent Homeboy has never been quite musical enough. Hence this partnership with the seldom heard undergrounder Edan, whose electronics heighten and sometimes carry the vocals Homeboy dominates. On the lead "Grim Seasons," Edan's sound effects dramatize Homeboy's rundown of a year's weather from winter's black ice to autumn's fallen. On the closer he extends human evolution similar support. And his looped, massaged fanfare carries "The Gut" front to back. But best by far is the Homeboy-dominated "#Neverusetheinternetagain," which deserves to go viral for running down every waste of brain power virality has wrought. A-

Homeboy Sandman: Dusty [Mello Music, 2019]
"I'm trying to be slower on the draw/But more and more seems like a loss to draw at all/I think that's noteworthy"--but Mono En Stereo jazz-lite beats or not, is it really? ("Pussy," "Noteworthy") **