09.19.2017
Kendrick Lamar
Damn

I was wrong about Damn. I heard the singles and wrote it off. "It sounds like he's given up and reaching for radio hits," I grumbled. "It doesn't hold a candle to has last two unimpeachable classics" I groused. "It's everything wrong with the current state of popular music," I whinged. Oh but then I listened to the damn thing. I already said I was wrong, what more do you want from me?


(1)
03.27.2016
Kendrick Lamar
untitled unmastered

There’s this whole contingent of music writers who refuse to accept Kendrick Lamar as our lord and savior. I understand them, but I don’t understand them. And it’s not an uninformed bunch. It’s hip hop dudes (albeit, probably like, white academic hip hop dudes who listened to Wu Tang growing up and wrote their doctorate theses on “Violence and Jewish Identity in Mobb Deep’s The Infamous”). They seemingly know their stuff? And yet there’s this uncomfortable unwillingness to give Kendrick Lamar his due. I almost feel like they want to fight off dudes like, well, me, who come in as outsiders who don’t really follow their world much, don’t care which mixtape Young Thug just released, have no idea who Lil Boosie is, and suddenly proclaim Kendrick (oh, sorry… “K Dot”) the contemporary master of the art form. I get it. We’re annoying. Kind of how I felt back when the Arcade Fire became a Thing. I had to be like, “Okay, calm down everybody” and then check out for a couple album cycles. But still—what’s their problem? The dude is great. He has things to say. He has a multitude of ways to say those things. His voice is a multi-instrument ensemble. He’s extraordinarily thoughtful, but still funny and surprising. His taste in collaborators and beats and arrangements is impeccable. What’s not to like? He’s the best. And this untitled unmastered proves it; it’s a collection of “unfinished” recordings not good enough to make his last album, and it’s possibly the best hip hop album of the year. I’m sorry hip hop music writer dudes. It’s real.

04.01.2015
Kendrick Lamar
To Pimp a Butterfly

Speaking of geniuses: Kendrick Lamar. This guy is the best rapper currently rapping. His lyrics are sharp and thoughtful and gut-punching. His delivery is dramatic and honest and musical. His choice in producers and collaborators is impeccable, and their work is seamless and progressive. To Pimp a Butterfly (as well as M.a.a.d. City) is an host-to-god work of capital-A Art. It should be playing on repeat in a museum somewhere. It's incredible. And it's no fun at all.

11.28.2012
Kendrick Lamar
Good Kid, M.A.A.D City

Either I've been totally brainwashed by the tsunami of critical acclaim this Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City record has been getting, or else I'm fully convinced that it is seriously work of capital-a Art. I can't decide. But for now I'm going with Art. The lyrics, the delivery, the production, even the between-song skits (!) all come together in a way that is rare in the rap world and form something that is way bigger than the sum of its parts. There are no singles, no real hooks, nothing to play at a party. But it has this energy and narrative to it that's like reading a good book, or watching a great movie. And a legitimately emotionally jarring ending! When's the last time you've been moved by the ending of a rap album? Pretty amazing. Now I just need to get over the fact that he aped his style from Andre 3000 and Lil Wayne, and I'm totally on board.

10.27.2017 - by Steve
Jambo KitchenU of M
Beef bisbaas rice bowl

There's this place that opened over near Cedar Riverside a few years ago called Afro Deli, which is sort of the first attempt at making a "Chipotle-for" style restaurant for east-African food. People like it. They've opened up another location in St. Paul, too!

Jambo Kitchen is not Afro Deli. There's a sign right in the front window that tells you as much. But you'd be forgiven if you got confused, because Jambo Kitchen is in the same space as the original Afro Deli, which has now moved to Stadium Villalge, serves essentially the same menu, in the same "Chipotle-for" style, and even has a uncomfortably similar rainbow-colored logo. It's weird.

The weirder thing, is that I don't feel like my entree tasted particularly African. Not that I'm an expert, obviously. It was good though! But my rice bowl, with steak and veggies and a "bisbaas" sauce, tasted what I would cynically describe as "vaguely ethnic." You could've told me it was Colombian or Cuban and I would've believed you. But still, it was delicious and fresh! My beef sambusa, meanwhile was more what I had in mind. Spicy and intensely flavored ground beef'n'stuff in a nice fried wrap, like a samosa. It was perfect. Really I could sit and eat three of those and call it a meal.

So yeah, Jambo is good. I'd go back. I should probably go to Afro Deli too.

10.17.2017 - by Steve
Isles BunUptown Minneapolis
Cinnamon bun

It's very easy to forget that Isles Bun exists. And that's actually not that bad, because you really don't need to eat these things any more than once or twice a year. But just remember, when you really need that cinnamon roll, feeling some deep longing for the decadence of a Cinnabon without the requisite shame that accompanies it, swallow your pride and go to Uptown and slather your feelings in frosting from their little tub.

10.17.2017 - by Steve
Northern Waters SmokehausDuluth
Smoked salmon banh mi

I wish Duluth was a better food town. Probably most people wish that; I mean, why not? But aside from the New Scenic*, and the Duluth Grill**, there doesn't seem to be any real momentum in transcending the half-assed tourist town cafes and Grandma's-owned food factories that the city currently calls it food scene. But there always seems to be a little bit of hope. Currently it's Northern Waters Smokehaus (sic), which despite its hashtag-basic name and Canal Park location, has lately been the universal recommendation of anyone even half in-the-know when asked what's good in Duluth these days. And even though most of these people will also recommend Burrito Union to you (blech), dag nabbit they're right about this one! Northern Waters is a small little deli in one of those weird Canal Park shopping/office complexes—which I think is more charming than annoying—which basically operates like a more urbane version of your standard north shore smokehouse. Smoked salmon, smoked trout, smoked herring. All that. But they go a step farther and do their own pastrami and sausage and porchetta (of course), and offer a whole bunch of different sandwiches. The porchetta was a little bit tame and dry for my liking, but still tasty. The smoked salmon banh mi, meanwhile, but a goddamn taste explosion, and even though you could barely make out the salmon in it, it was still a damn good sandwich. Especially for Duluth. And for what it's worth, I ate some of the salmon on its own, and it was perfect. Meanwhile, we got some polish sausage to go, and cooked it up a couple days later, to phenomenal results. As you can tell, I like this place. It's just what Duluth needs, and I'm glad it exists. And based on the lines that afternoon, I'm imagining they're going to be twice as big next time I visit, and hopefully no less respectable.

* Which isn't even in Duluth.
** Which I've actually never eaten at, but I refuse to believe is really any better than your standard Highland Grill / Chatterbox style "hey look at this funky food!" cliche which would never fly in a bigger city in 2017.

09.28.2017 - by Steve
The BulldogNortheast Minneapolis
Eggs benedict, bacon caramel roll

I never would've guessed The Bulldog would have the best brunch in Northeast, but here we are.