• The Roots Save Their Sour Notes for the Quizzically Bleak '…And Then You Shoot Your Cousin'

    The Roots Save Their Sour Notes for the Quizzically Bleak '…And Then You Shoot Your Cousin'

    In this post-Internet age of cross-platform synergy as condo down-payment survival, the Roots have flourished. There is the band on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, an incredible sight for anyone who remembers how the Fugees swacked them back in 1995. There is the annual Roots picnic; the Starbucks-friendly Wise Up Ghost with Elvis Costello; the festival appearances with guitarist Captain Kirk Douglas shredding up "Sweet Child O' Mine." And yes, there is ?uestlove, the genial Paul Shaffer to Jimmy Fallon's twee Letterman, and one of the new millennium's great bon vivants, tweeting and posting selfies on Instagram about his celebrity friends (lots of Prince shout-outs) and his epicurean adventures with impressive gregariousness.

  • Freddie Gibbs and Madlib

    Freddie Gibbs and Madlib Craft a Deft, Eccentric Street-Rap Epic on 'Pinata'

    Piñata, the full-length collaboration between 21st-century gangster rapper Freddie Gibbs and 31st-century producer Madlib, lulls breezily between pro forma thuggery and Swisha Sweet insights, mixing progressive beats (sampled, not synthesized) with grizzled street raps (real talk, not fake Bawse boasts). But though this is well-trod ground, from the blaxploitation allusions to the Odd Future and TDE cameos (sorry, no Kendrick), there is innovation and illumination here, too. There is "Thuggin'," wherein Gibbs chops over frail guitar licks looped and sped up into an Americanized spaghetti-gangster soundtrack, thanks to Madlib's excavation of an arcane British library record, Rubba's "Way Star" (h/t WhoSampled.com).

  • Janelle Monáe / Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

    Janelle Monae's 'The Electric Lady' Strives to Match Her Sci-Fi Ambitions and Pop Smarts

    Janelle Monáe's ongoing multi-album Metropolis project is a post-millennial homage to Fritz Lang's roaring twenties dystopia, and a framework for the fervently precocious futurist-R&B ideas of the Wondaland Arts Society, a production hive mind she built with fellow ATLiens Chuck Lightning, Nate "Rocket" Wonder, and Roman GianArthur. Its fictional heroine, the plucky and rebellious android Cindi Mayweather (#57821), is an apt alter-ego for Monáe, whose interviews frequently ascend into Universalist pronouncements, whose hair is permanently swept up into a '50s pompadour, and whose overall bearing seems to involve warmly embracing and tacitly distancing herself from her audience all at once. At this point, she doesn't need any conceits to convince us that she's a strange, wonderful bird.

  • Alunageorge at Emporio Armani Summer Garden Live / Photo by David M. Benett/Getty Images Entertainment

    AlunaGeorge's Hit-or-Miss 'Body Music' Proves That Killer Alt-R&B Singles Don’t Always Add Up to a Killer Album

    Body Music, the full-length debut from British duo AlunaGeorge, could have made an excellent EP. The math is there, all right. Set aside the three 2012 electro-R&B numbers — "You Know You Like It," "Your Drums, Your Love," and "Just a Touch" — that first caught everyone's attention. Keep the shimmering synth-pop of advance single "Attracting Flies," as well as the best new material here, including lovely ballad "Outlines" and the boogie-funk-lite showcase "Kaleidoscope Love." Throw in the trap-inflected U.K. garage cut "Lost & Found" for sonic variety. Then cut the rest.But don't fault Aluna Francis and George Reid for stretching their talent for incandescent pop singles to the point of tedium.

  • New watch alert: They're stealing yours

    Run The Jewels, 'Run the Jewels' (Fool's Gold)

    Run the Jewels may be the first time NYC rapper/producer El-P has abandoned his perfectionist's streak for the exhilaration of immediate results. There are no weighty concepts about drone warfare and abusive relationships (as on last year's long-gestating Cancer 4 Cure) here; just raw-dog raps and galactic funk alongside Atlanta big homie Killer Mike (whose El-produced R.A.P.

  • Kid Cudi / Photo by C Flanigan/WireImage

    Kid Cudi, 'Indicud' (Republic)

    Will Kid Cudi ever find true happiness? That dilemma lies at the crux of Indicud, an album that the mercurial rapper has claimed in interviews is more "positive" than his lonely stoner adventures of yore, trading inert depression for defiant, defensive "King Wizard" triumphalism. Its cover art displays a fiery maelstrom bracketed by an ornately designed frame, a synthesis of high-art aspirations and uncontrollable fury that seems all too suitable for Cudi.But the real question here is whether you should care at all — and you actually might. It has been more than four years since Cudi transfixed the mainstream with "Day 'N Nite" and "Pursuit of Happiness," the two droll, goofily trippy singles from his debut album, 2009's Man on the Moon: The End of Day. The second installment in his ad-hoc "Man on the Moon" series, the following year's The Legend of Mr.

  • Serengeti, 'Saal' (Graveface)

    David Cohn, who raps under the name Serengeti, is a vignette expert. He can summarize a character's entire life — or at least someone's crux and turning point — within a three-minute song, whether it's the loser UFC-wannabe who finds vindication in a bar fight on "The Whip," or the man suffering a painful breakup on "Dwight." The former is meant to be a cleverly told joke; the latter is constructed around a series of anxious questions to the woman who now rejects the man. Both songs, which hail from his 2011 album Family&Friends, epitomize the sardonic humor and deeply unsettling melancholy on which most of his catalog rests. Cohn’s best records are akin to short-story collections in how they sustain an emotional tone through an exploration of, to paraphrase Thoreau, men who lead lives of quiet desperation.

  • cody chesnutt

    Cody ChesnuTT, 'Landing on a Hundred' (Vibration Vineyard)

    Two years ago, Cody ChesnuTT reappeared like a wandering soul once feared lost to the winds of time. Nearly a decade had passed since the emergence of his debut album, The Headphone Masterpiece, a two-disc, two-hour morass of funky rock'n'blues that evoked Shuggie Otis and Jimi Hendrix in its horny impudence. But his 2010 comeback EP, Black Skin, No Value, found him indulging his newfound role as a social activist. His beard, once sculpted, had since grown thick and burly, and now covered the lower half of his face; he wore a military-style helmet, as if heading into some battle that only he could envision.Two songs from that EP reoccur on the new, full-length Landing on a Hundred.

  • Meek Mill, 'Dreams & Nightmares' (Maybach Music/Warner Bros.)

    Meek Mill raps as if he is typing in all caps: "I'M BRINGING TUPAC BACK! TUPAC BACK!" He tends to, if not necessarily screech at the top of his lungs, then at least yell loud enough to project an appealing bellicosity. He's not the first MC with a high-octane delivery — the underrated Ace Hood comes to mind, as well as Freeway, another Philadelphia rapper. And on past singles like "Tupac Back," "Ima Boss," and more recently, "Actin' Up" (with its guilty-pleasure chorus "These bitches be actin' up / And these niggas be lettin' 'em"), those shouted raps are aggressively uninhibited, the vocal equivalent of throwing bows.He also happens to be a competent lyricist, and it's that talent, not his loudmouth voice or would-be rap hits, that proves his saving grace on Dreams & Nightmares. Frankly, listening to someone yell for an hour can get really fucking annoying.

  • Lupe Fiasco, 'Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, Pt. 1' (

    The 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.

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