• Albums,  Reviews

    Theophilus London, ‘Vibes’

    Theophilus London - VibesWhen Warner Bros. announced that Kanye West would executive-produce Theophilus London’s Vibes, it brought much-needed promotion to this Brooklyn sensualist who sings more than he raps, and who spends his off-days lounging at Cannes and taking in runway shows at Paris Fashion Week. He brings uncommonly varied cultural references to his pop raps – his 2009 collaboration with Machinedrum, This Charming Mixtape, featured cover art homage to Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model, and his 2011 major-label debut, Timez Are Weird These Days, included cameos from Sara Quin of Tegan & Sara and Holly Miranda. That range of sensibilities may attract a fellow dandy like West, but it may also explain why London has only had moderate success in the States. It’s hard to know what he really stands for other than good taste.

  • Albums,  Reviews

    Childish Gambino, ‘Camp’

    Childish Gambino - CampChildish Gambino’s Camp is a bit of a mess. It veers wildly from poignant emotions to maudlin histrionics, often in the same song. On the album’s penultimate track, “That Power,” Childish Gambino encourages the Freaks and Geeks comparisons with a poem about serenading his childhood crush at the end of summer camp, that annual ritual of pubescent awkwardness, only to be mocked by her and her friends. It will have you recoiling in sympathetic embarrassment and reaching for the Kleenex at the same time. “I wish I could say this is a story about how I got on the bus a boy and got off a man, more cynical, hardened, mature and shit,” he says. “The truth is that I got on the bus a boy, and never got off the bus.”

  • Albums,  Reviews

    Nicki Minaj, ‘Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded’

    Nicki Minaj - Roman ReloadedNicki Minaj is a self-described Harajuku girl with a potty mouth and a dementedly theatrical fashion sense to match. Much like Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and Ke$ha, Nicki Minaj is a brand in constant flux, re-positioning herself from video to public appearance to newly-released digital single. The series of teaser tracks for Pink Friday: Roman’s Reloaded brought a variety of fresh guises, including usurper of Lil Kim’s rap queen throne on “Stupid Hoe,” and the nightclub siren of “Starships.” (One early single, “Roman in Moscow,” didn’t make the final cut.) Helpfully, she cleaves Roman’s Reloaded into two distinct halves. Lovers of her face-melting rhymes get “HOV Lane” (as in Jay-Z a.k.a. “Jay Hova”) and ciphers with Rick Ross, Cam’Ron, and Nas. Fans who adore her radio confections get clubby house tracks like “Starships” made by Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” producer RedOne.

    However, this was supposed to be an hour completely devoted to Nicki’s manic id, Roman Zolanski, the one who upstaged Kanye West on “Monster,” swiped credit for Big Sean’s hit “Dance (A$$),” and the self-described “lunatic” who battled with Eminem on “Roman’s Revenge.” Roman is essentially a stand-in for Nicki the MC, but Nicki the MC doesn’t pay her bills, at least when it comes to her solo success. Her biggest hits, like “Super Bass” and “Moment for Life,” featured her singing front and center, and even though she rapped on both songs, it’s the flat voice and Trinidadian lilt that we remember. So Roman the rap lunatic takes a backseat on Roman Reloaded, while Nicki the multi-platform pop sensation gets a majority of face time.

  • Albums,  Reviews

    Lupe Fiasco, ‘Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album’

    Lupe Fiasco - Food & Liquor IIThe cover art for Lupe Fiasco’s sequel to his 2006 debut, Food & Liquor, is shrouded in all black, a design shtick historically associated with emotional disruptions: Prince’s violently pessimistic funk, Jay-Z’s uncharacteristically poignant bouts of confidence, Metallica’s awkward growth spurt from thrash metal prodigies to corporate-rock dinosaurs. Yet on Food & Liquor II, the Chicago MC continues on as always. He criticizes the AmeriKKKan government on “Ital [Roses],” just as he did with 2011’s “Words I Never Said” (off the commercially successful Lasers) and the original Food & Liquor‘s “American Terrorist.” He declares that his outrageously unvarnished opinions are mere expressions of love for his audience on “Heart Donor,” just as he did with Lasers‘ “The Show Goes On.”