Copyright ©2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host: And finally this hour, a new album from the rapper Serengeti. It's called Family and Friends. It's a collection of character sketches not unlike the classic poems of Spoon River Anthology that filter through the lens of modern hip hop.

Critic Robert Christgau has our review.

ROBERT CHRISTGAU: Serengeti is a rapper from Chicago whose government name is David Cohn. He made a small splash in 2006 by impersonating a white, middle-aged Chicago sports fan who's a rabid fan of the actor Brian Dennehy, and a lot of other things.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DENNEHY")

SERENGETI: Mike Ditka got fired. Favorite actor Dennehy, favorite drink O'Doul's, Bears, Hawks, Sox, Bulls. Play softball with the guys, wife made curly fries. Drink about four O'Doul's, grounded out, two pop flies. In the Buick down Western, stop and get some more brats. On sale chicken, Italian sausages, and orange pop. This week, fishing trip, gotta get some new flies...

CHRISTGAU: If you think the voice we just heard didn't sound much like a rapper, that's the idea. More than any MC working, Serengeti writes story songs about characters he makes up. Sometimes these characters recur, like Kenny, who's stuck in his Buick in "Dennehy," the song we just heard. But on Serengeti's new "Family and Friends," almost every song introduces a new character, like the self-reinventing fool who narrates "California."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALIFORNIA")

SERENGETI: Ever since I got divorced, everything's been going right on course. I've been riding a horse, doing a little horses, fun in shorts. Relaxing, texing, sleeping, refilling glasses of reasoning. What a great way to spend an evening. I look so good I'm beaming. Ever since I lost my job, I started a blog. It's been going so great, it's about the ins and outs of a perfect date.

CHRISTGAU: Serengeti's physical voice doesn't shift on "Family and Friends" the way it does on "Dennehy." The prissy pretension of "California" is about as far as it gets from Serengeti's normal rapping voice, which can be discursive and mumbly or clear and quick, as on the only third-person song here, the chronicle of a mixed martial arts fighter.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WHIP")

SERENGETI: Around UFC 38 he tried to get back in shape, give it another shot, under hooks and learn to dirty box and (unintelligible) to go. He said he's too old for his body to (unintelligible). But in UFC 3, he chose the man with his cage, If he just would hold on or avoided, what ifs, not everyone can win championships, without knowing, it's better to not even attempt.

CHRISTGAU: Serengeti has more talent than success and more albums than I can count - well over a dozen. Several of these are quite obscure and most are typical underground hip-hop, more complex and drawn-out than "Family and Friends," which squeezes 11 songs into just 31 minutes.

The album title is thematic. Just about every song here concerns intimate personal relationships. Half excavate ruined marriages, and the most troubling describes the return of an absentee dad.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LONG EARS")

SERENGETI: Father and son time, he moved in my apartment. Mom's jealous. Daddy always shines, but I don't know. He doesn't always chip in with stuff. It was fine at first, but I never got reimbursed. And I thought it'd be romantic if we do a trust together, what a beautiful peace me and dad and a padded suite. Curses him, no stupid mouth to police. Dad got nabbed on warrant he had back east. Cops gone...

CHRISTGAU: There's an accrued melancholy about "Family and Friends" that reflects both the economic downturn and the long slog of a marginal artist who just turned 35. It's poignant that way. But one reason it's poignant is that Serengeti also has a silly side, as on the simplistic rhymes of the almost autobiographical "A.R.P."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A.R.P.")

SERENGETI: I skateboarded and hurt my knee. I sat by next to a willow tree. I drink DMT. In high school I've got (unintelligible).

BLOCK: The new album from Serengeti is called "Family and Friends." Our reviewer is Robert Christgau.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.