• Cam'ron & Vado, 'Gunz N' Butta' (E One)

    Cam'ron & Vado, 'Gunz N' Butta' (E One)

    Fans aching for reconciliation among members of the Diplomats were heartened by last summer's boisterous single "Salute" and several reunion concerts, but new albums from Cam'ron and Jim Jones reveal cleaved musical directions for the Harlem crew. On Gunz N' Butta, Cam'ron and protégé Vado (a rapper with Gatling-gun nuance) are roiling and abrasive, twisting down a wormhole of multisyllabic rhymes and Araabmuzik's skittering beats. Jones veers the other way with Capo, openly courting accessibility with hooks from Wyclef Jean and Ashanti, spacey Kid Cudi-esque crooning, and even mournful emoting("Deep Blue"). Perhaps Dipset's collective strength was located in moderation, not in extremes.

  • Jim Jones, 'Capo' (E One)

    Jim Jones, 'Capo' (E One)

    Fans aching for reconciliation among members of the Diplomats were heartened by last summer's boisterous single "Salute" and several reunion concerts, but new albums from Cam'ron and Jim Jones reveal cleaved musical directions for the Harlem crew. On Gunz N' Butta, Cam'ron and protégé Vado (a rapper with Gatling-gun nuance) are roiling and abrasive, twisting down a wormhole of multisyllabic rhymes and Araabmuzik's skittering beats. Jones veers the other way with Capo, openly courting accessibility with hooks from Wyclef Jean and Ashanti, spacey Kid Cudi-esque crooning, and even mournful emoting("Deep Blue"). Perhaps Dipset's collective strength was located in moderation, not in extremes.

  • Lloyd Banks, 'H.F.M. 2' (G-Unit)

    Lloyd Banks, 'H.F.M. 2' (G-Unit)

    Lloyd Banks' hunger is not born of starvation, but of an insatiable appetite. On his third solo effort, the G-Unit rapper is a connoisseur of cars, women, and guns, spinning tight spider webs of syllables that are often so patterned that they obscure individual strands. "Put my Ferrari in park, give 'em a running start," Banks growls on "Payback," a sinister track with mentor 50 Cent and a woozy, almost dubstep bass line. But he loves the ladies almost as much as barking threats. On "So Forgetful," an apology to past conquests, Banks muses about "wet spots on the mattress and champagne splashes" atop producer Ryan Leslie's 8-bit Atari synths.

  • Cassidy, 'C.A.S.H. (Cass a Straight Hustla)' (E One)

    Cassidy, 'C.A.S.H. (Cass a Straight Hustla)' (E One)

    A formidable Philadelphia battle rapper and Swizz Beatz protégé, Cassidy badly needs an editor on his fourth studio full-length. A torrent of lazy similes makes C.A.S.H. seem like a book of bar-napkin doodles. "I'm trying to get retarded money like Forrest Gump," Cassidy offers on "One Shot," one of several self-produced tracks that attempt to re-create the festive energy of his 2007 hit "My Drink n' My 2 Step." Later, on "Awww Shit," a snare-lashed joint with repetitive guitar, he claims "I'm fly as a kite" as a hook. On this dismal effort, Cassidy proves he can still flow, but to little effect.

  • Lil Boosie, 'Incarcerated' (Trill/Asylum)

    Lil Boosie, 'Incarcerated' (Trill/Asylum)

    Where T.I.'s Paper Trail, recorded during house arrest, was a paean to contrition, Lil Boosie's fourth studio album -- released as he faces murder and narcotics charges -- is unapologetic. On caustic, brooding opener, "Devils," he accuses police of plotting to kill him, then seethes as he addresses the judge: "Bitch, you gon' railroad a nigga / And lose me in the system." Still, Incarcerated is unflinchingly self-aware; over lean synths, Boosie examines his dirt-poor Baton Rouge upbringing, rap money, family, and his intractable proximity to death. It's an enormously heartfelt album that makes his legal plight even more of a feel-bad story.

  • Das Racist, 'Sit Down, Man' (Greedhead/Mad Decent)

    Das Racist, 'Sit Down, Man' (Greedhead/Mad Decent)

    When Das Racist debuted with 2008's "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell," it was difficult to tell if the Brooklyn duo were just outsider scoundrels poking fun at hip-hop. Sit Down, Man clears things up: Victor Vazquez and Himanshu Suri are rap nerds who uncoil verses crammed with obscure, wide-ranging references and cutting social observation. It's Rawkus Records-era indie weirdness without the purist rigidity. Snagging twitchy beats from El-P, Diplo, Dame Grease, and others, they express adoration for hip-hop's wonderfully sprawling meta-ness. And on the satirical fiasco "Fashion Party," abetted by Chairlift's glossy synths, they murmur their punch lines with effete élan: "Wafers and crackers, famous actors / Duck confit, pinot grigio / Hummus with miso."

  • Waka Flocka Flame, 'Flockaveli' (Asylum/Warner Bros.)

    Waka Flocka Flame, 'Flockaveli' (Asylum/Warner Bros.)

    Waka is more agitator than rapper--imagine DJ Kool as an unhinged goon with a fetish for brawling and gunfire. "I'm drunk as hell / Can't you tell?" the Atlanta rapper barks on "No Hands," a track whose epic strings befit a strip club Zeus would frequent. But pole-dancing fodder is scarce; the rest is an unforgiving crush of unveiled threats over ricocheting drums and choleric synths, most provided by young producer Lex Luger (best known for Rick Ross' summer anthem "B.M.F."). Flockaveli's flaw is not Waka's coarseness, but his generosity -- 25 guest verses from anonymous Brick Squad cronies suck up air instead of letting Waka breathe without mentor Gucci Mane's oxygen tank.

  • Lil Wayne, 'I Am Not a Human Being' (Cash Money)

    Lil Wayne, 'I Am Not a Human Being' (Cash Money)

    Rap and pop music have long exchanged amorous ogles, and recently, their sparkly offspring have staggered forth in the form of NutraSweet club anthems befitting Snooki's bachelorette party. But since Lil Wayne was sent to Riker's Island on gun charges in March, some needed cellular division has occurred. Two of the summer's most insistent hit records, Rick Ross' "BMF" and Waka Flocka Flame's "Hard in the Paint" (both produced by Lex Luger), were heavy, violent, and unabashedly rap. Then Kanye West, perhaps pop music's most dynamic artist, began leaking neo-purist rap tracks with cameos from respected veteran MCs Mos Def, Pusha T, and Raekwon.

  • Gucci Mane, 'The Appeal: Georgia's Most Wanted' (Asylum/Warner Bros.)

    With his mushy run-on sentences over stark keyboards and 808 kicks, Gucci Mane has a charmingly sloppy DIY appeal. He's less a craftsman than a hood dude who just makes records for the fuck of it. But on his second LP, the Atlanta rapper's creeping self-awareness and new polish eat away at his edge. In his comfort zone, Gucci remains magnificent. On "Girl Missing," produced by Zaytoven, he mutters about assault rifles over an Eastern European-esque synth progression. It's music made for running Kiev red lights in an armored Benz with hookers in the back. Later, abetted by the ominous, siren-infested beat of "Trap Talk," he describes paying crackhouse cookers in cocaine. But The Appeal falters when A-list producers (Swizz Beatz, Wyclef Jean, Pharrell) try to give Gucci the Eliza Doolittle treatment. "Grown Man," a schlocky, Estelle-assisted anthem, seems made for Snooki to dance/cry to.

  • The Pack, 'Wolfpack Party' (SMC)

    Moody, unhinged rapper Lil B has become the face of this Berkeley quartet, but their sex-themed sophomore LP is just as frivolously accessible as 2006 sneaker-anthem hit "Vans." Wolfpack Party sounds as if Bay Area hyphy, Spank Rock, and Euro-trance were muddled in Seth Brundle's telepod. The result is -- wait for it -- engagingly fly. With ridiculous Auto-Tuned hooks, filthy lyrics ("Bustin' on your ass / Can't believe I said that / Never been a racist / I left her with a wet back"), and jittery beats from Young L and the Cataracts, it's worth putting your name on the guest list. BUY: Amazon

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