Critic’s Notebook: Pro Era, Dawn Richard, Nosaj Thing

Notable recordings from the world of pop music.

Pro Era

Funny: When teenage boys are assembled to sing pop ditties, we dub them “boy bands” and shoo them off to the kids’ table. When teenage boys assemble themselves into rap groups, we expect them to rescue their genre.

Cover art for "Peep: The Aprocalypse" by Pro Era. (Courtesy of Pro Era)

Cover art for “Peep: The Aprocalypse” by Pro Era. (Courtesy of Pro Era)

It’s been a month since Pro Era dropped its fantastically fresh mix tape, “Peep: The Aprocalypse,” but plenty of blog scribes are still approaching this adolescent Brooklyn rap collective with crossed arms. Why the wariness? Is it because they meld the playfulness of A Tribe Called Quest and Souls of Mischief with the intensity of Black Moon and Mobb Deep – four legendary rap squads that made their respective marks before some of these guys were even born?

Sadly, one of the group’s members is already gone. Capital Steez, the 19-year-old who, along with Pro Era leader Joey Bada$$,shined brightest in the crew, reportedly died on Christmas Eve, three days after this mix tape was released.

Listen: “Bun and Cheese”

Dawn Richard

Remember the aughties? Remember “Making the Band,” that Diddy-hosted MTV reality show? Remember Danity Kane, the bubbly girl group it produced? Remember Dawn Richard, the woman who led the pack with her airy purr? Kindasortamaybenot?

With her latest effort, “Goldenheart,” Richard sounds like she’s trying to shake off all that back story and step into futuristic new turf. It’s an independently released R&B album free of major-label meddling – and free of a major-label budget, too. The way a Rihanna album sounds expensive and inert, Richard’s sounds cheap and urgent.

And that’s a good thing. “Get ready for war,” she chants at the album’s outset. She’s singing about love as a battlefield, but what she’s really fighting for is her career.

Nosaj Thing

Los Angeles producer Jason Chung plays well with others. He’s crafted cosmic backing beats for rappers Kendrick Lamar and Kid Cudi. He’s remixed Radiohead, Portishead and Drake. But “Home,” Chung’s sleek sophomore album as Nosaj Thing, feels downright lonely.

His instrumental electronic tracks have the digital polish worthy of a new car commercial, but his sense of melody turns them all into delicious downers. Even when visitors beam in for vocal cameos – Chaz Bundick (Toro y Moi) and Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead – Chung’s music still evokes 21st-century solitude.

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