Robert Christgau:
Expert Witness

Atmosphere, The Roots, Homeboy Sandman,
Open Mike Eagle

Atmosphere: Southsiders

(Rhymesayers Entertainment)

Rarely has such a modest record been so in-your-face about it. Ten years since Sean Daley d/b/a Slug started disengaging from the old-boy alt-rap he hoped he’d outgrown, lines like “The world might not live through the night” and “I highly doubt that y’all think about sex anywhere near as often as I think about death” add a gravitas you may shrug off and I believe keeps him up nights. I also believe that as he “write[s] it all down before it vanishes,” he feels “Fortunate” to make music from his words and a living at it too. For CD purchasers only: a portfolio of proudly unpretentious architectural photographs documenting the workaday housing stock of his mixed Minneapolis hood. A MINUS

The Roots:
And Then You Shoot Your Cousin

(Def Jam)

With Questlove forswearing all songwriting, with Black Thought sharing the few true raps with benchwarmers Dice Raw and Greg Porn, with cameos and guest tracks and goddamn musique concrête bringing the runt up to weight, with the moral burden of the climax handed over to a neosoul obscurity who lost his label deal in 2010, feel free to slot this 33-minute “concept album” as half-assed product squeezed into their bizzy schedule. Historically, that may even be how it happened. Yet musically it coheres better than the ass-and-a-half Undun—a touching, upsetting meditation in which a sketchy gangsta wannabe embodies the limits of all striving. Every time the musique concrête squelches in, I remember how fraught the world is. Every time Raheem DeVaughn croons about our need for angels, I feel thankful for what I got. A MINUS

Homeboy Sandman: Hallways

(Stones Throw)

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 MINUS

Homeboy Sandman: All That I Hold Dear (Stones Throw) “How can a artist make too much art?” (“Runts,” “Relapse”) ***

Open Mike Eagle: Dark Comedy


Beatwise enough to prop up his unpretentious absurdity-trumps-sarcasm, but not to put it across (“Informations,” “Dark Comedy Morning Show”) **

Follow Robert Christgau on Twitter at @rxgau.
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Illustration by
Matthew Hollister