District Sound: Political hip hop, choppy guitar lines and jangly guitar rock

Coming back to campus means buying textbooks, stocking your fridge and, of course, buying all your favorite concert tickets. The next couple of months bring an iconic rapper, an erratic indie rocker and an early ‘00s garage punk band to the District – all giving you enough time to grab your tickets before they sell out.

Yasiin Bey (Mos Def)
Feb. 20 | Howard Theatre | $35 advance, $40 day of

Yasiin Bey abandoned his stage name Mos Def for his birth name. But no matter what he calls himself, he’s still synonymous with socially conscious rap and hip-hop. Where rap reaches a thematic consensus on boastful rhymes of opulence and wealth, Bey departs from the “strip club rappers” approach. Instead, he opts for incisive sociopolitical commentary and biting criticism of failed leadership systems and cultural crises.

Racial inequities, collusive politics and the bullshit of celebrity are fair game in Bey’s verse arsenal – “Ask yourself, why you care?/Somebody going ham on a gossip site/Catching feelings over rumors that are not your life,” he raps in “I Don’t Like” – but he’s not immune to injections of self-praise. As he says himself, “My voice like magic, my flow fantastic/In summary I’m rare, ordinary, elaborate.”

Score: He’s one of rap’s greats and fiercely uses his public persona for advocacy.
Bore: Bey’s societal gripes are legitimate and lucidly defined, but verge on self-righteous for any show-goers looking for light-hearted rhymes.

St. Vincent
March 2 | 9:30 Club | $30

The singles of singer and multi-instrumentalist St. Vincent are slow-moving and lightly accompanied, but can promptly jolt into energy with biting, brief riffs. St. Vincent dynamically pairs waify vocals with frenetic, choppy guitar lines and disjointed rhythms, like in 2011’s “Cruel” and the progressively dense and abrasive “Cheerleader.”

Where her singing feels commonplace – suited to a broader vocal trend of somewhat frail, folky tonalities – her compositions are uniquely advanced, incorporating swelling, orchestral instrumentals with poppy electro keyboard jabs. Above all, her tracks are driven by clever and emotive lyricism: “I’ve told whole lies with a half smile/Held your bare bones with my clothes on/I’ve thrown rocks then hid both my arms,” she sings in “Cheerleader.” Her composition chops, however diverse in influence, ultimately prove at once eccentric and widely appealing.

Score: She’s been praised by David Byrne, and has proven a versatile and musically astute modern songwriter.
Bore: Shifts in musical elements within single tracks can feel jarring, and at times, St. Vincent’s electronic themes feel tired and unoriginal.

Black Lips
April 14 | Black Cat | $15

Those who critique the rock immaturity of the 2000s might fail to recognize the Black Lips, who blend jangly garage rock with the sing-along nature of the Violent Femmes and the collected coolness of Jet. They converge bright ’60s-themed guitar lines – some tinged with imposing spaghetti-western themes – and dual vocals with tough, nearly screamed choruses. Campy rhythmic lines are draped over punk drum progressions, like in the nearly cheesy “Navajo,” with the band never firmly rooting itself in one rock milieu.

In keeping with some punk ethos strains, the Black Lips don’t take themselves too seriously. But their ambitious and sonically compatible pairings of era-specific sounds distinguish them from their garage rock contemporaries.

Score: Tracking the spectrum of rock subgenres within the Black Lips’ discography expands notions of an already fun and lively garage rock style.
Bore: Their dips into borderline psychedelic, hippie-laced inspiration might put off modern rock devotees.

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