Lil Wayne, T-Pain, Keyshia Cole, Gym Class Heroes | United Center | Hip-Hop | Chicago Reader

Lil Wayne, T-Pain, Keyshia Cole, Gym Class Heroes All Ages Soundboard Recommended Critics' Picks

When: Sat., Dec. 27, 6 p.m. 2008

A few years ago LIL WAYNE was a decent Dirty South rapper with nothing but a handful of solid singles to hang his reputation on, but then he started turning into something much stranger. As he accumulated oddities—facial tattoos, lyrics marinated in promethazine—he only got more popular, and that just encouraged him to get weirder. By the time Tha Carter III (Universal Motown) dropped this summer, he was not only widely acknowledged as the best rapper alive but was working so far off the script that he began calling himself, somewhat credibly, an alien. His eccentricities, combined with his famous prolificacy, occasionally produce confounding moments—like singing bits of Green Day’s “Basket Case” through Auto-Tune on “Hot Revolver”—but just as often they give us off-the-charts brilliance like the twisted psychedelia of “I Feel Like Dying.” His two most recent mix tapes—The Dedication 3 and The Drought Is Over 6—are merely mediocre, but I don’t find that very worrying. He still kills it on the dozen or so cameo spots he’s got in rotation on the radio right now, and given his batting average the odds are that his next couple albums’ worth of material—which he’ll probably have out by next week—will be bonkers good. —Miles Raymer

KEYSHIA COLE’s 2005 debut, The Way It Is, made it obvious that Mary J. Blige was her biggest influence—resentment and anger over bad relationships gave many of the songs their emotional juice, and Cole’s powerhouse voice carried so much meaning in its nuances that the actual lyrics sometimes seemed superfluous. In the three years since, her outlook has made the same shift it’s taken Blige her whole career to negotiate—she’s gravitated toward songs with less conflicted narrators, who are better at avoiding bad situations and don’t take shit from no-good men. As with Blige, though, less trouble means less gripping songs. Not to knock happiness or anything, but hearing someone celebrate her joy and confidence gets dull after a few tunes. Though Cole’s voice has never sounded stronger and more precise than it does on her new third album, A Different Me (Geffen), she’s filled way too much of the disc with threadbare, overwrought ballads that are little more than shapeless vessels for her vocal prowess. After a couple of up-tempo jams where she shows off her rhythmic chops by playing with and against the beat, the record descends into a string of subpar self-help numbers that squander many of her skills. Maybe she should talk to Blige about borrowing her songwriters. —Peter Margasak

Price: $45-$85

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