Mavado, 'Mr. Brooks…A Better Tomorrow' (VP)

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by Baz Dreisinger

Gangsta personas have short shelf lives. Snoop Dogg: the only set he's believably rolling with these days is the PTA. and who's still afraid of big, bad 50 Cent? Post–"In Da Club," he became more of a thug cartoon than the genuine article. But on his stellarsecond album, David "Mavado" Brooks -- the Kingston-born artist hyped as having more street cred than Biggie and Tupac combined -- has lost none of the edge that made him dancehall's latest commercial savior.

Backed by stripped-down beats, Mavado "singjays" -- a style that's part chatting, part crooning -- in his trademark tear-soaked voice, lamenting gunshots and demanding them (shades of the Tupac paradox). On his debut album, he did more of the latter, but here he ups the gravitas with elegies saturated in Biblical references: the haunting "Don't Worry," the hymnlike "On the Rock" (which inspired Jay-Z to drop a verse on its remix), and "Overcome," a stunning cry against Jamaican poverty and crime. Even warning an enemy that he'll be laying "in a tomb" ("Life of a G"), Mavado never quite glorifies bullets and bravado.

There are still the requisite sexed-up dancehall clichés, but they only suggest where Mr. Brooks' real strengths lie. Some of Jamaica's most conscious reggae stars -- Buju Banton, Capleton -- started out talking girls and guns; here, Mavado hints that he soon may be following them down a righteous path.

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