• Bubba Sparxxx, 'Deliverance' (Beat Club/Interscope)

    Back in 2001, Bubba Sparxxx played Eminem to Timbaland's Dr.Dre. But instead of riding the pale wave to success, he found that a short white man could cast a long shadow. His forceful debut,Dark Days, Bright Nights, might have been lauded in leaner times; instead, it became a footnote to Marshall Mathers' massiveness. On Deliverance, Bubba's back, and he's traded frolicking in pig slop (see the "Ugly" video) for a more robust evocation of life below the Mason-Dixon line.

  • The Streets, 'Original Pirate Material' (Vice)

    Mike Skinner, a.k.a. the Streets, could be the most gifted rapper London has ever produced, except that he doesn't really rap--he pontificates, spins spoken-word yarns, and kicks running commentary. Hip-hop--and Britain's equally bling-fixated 2-step-garage scene--has shaped Skinner's sound, but he's too earnest to reproduce their bluster. He's an observant, asphalt-level "geezer"--Brit slang for everyman--set apart by the sharpness of his lens, not the force of his flow. On Original Pirate Material, Skinner nails the quiet desperation of the white working class like a pub-hooligan Marshall Mathers, with all of Slim Shady's good humor and none of his insanity.

  • Survival of the Illest

    By: Jon CaramanicaIs N.O.R.E. really God's favorite, or is tonight the night forRedman? Find out when two rappers take on the hip-hop beat-'em-upDef Jam Vendetta You strategize, you battle, you rack up point totals in the millions--being a rap star is pretty much like beinga character in your own videogame. Electronic Arts takes this correlation to its logical end in Def Jam Vendetta, a fully loaded,fighting free-for-all starring the famed hip-hop label's heaviest hitters, including DMX, Ludacris, Scarface, and Ghostface Killah. To ensure that Vendetta was properly "representing," the real-life versions of Redman and N.O.R.E. (who are also available as playable characters in the game) played a round at Def Jam's chaste, smoke-free offices.

  • Ms. Dynamite, 'A Little Deeper' (Interscope)

    Old enough to know better but young enough not to care, England's Ms. Dynamite sells a throwback idea on her sprightly debut album: message-driven soul music. Although hip-hop still breaks out the soapbox on occasion, mainstream R&B singers haven't paid much attention to affairs outside the bedroom since the funk era. Dynamite started out in the U.K. garage scene, guesting with the controversial So Solid Crew. Then an appearance on the sticky single "Booo!"--a track decrying club violence and an anomalous hit in a genre that prizes ruffneck posturing--made her an instant star. Accordingly, on her thoughtful, earnest debut album, A Little Deeper, Dynamite comes across as a soul singer with a conscious rapper's concerns. Deeper doesn't present listeners with a tutorial on garage--a fusion of British breakbeat science and the glammier side of American R&B.

  • Various Artists, '...Clones" (Star Trak/Arista) / Spymob, 'Sitting Around Keeping Score' (Star Trak/Arista)

    Traveling is fun-you make loads of new friends, try all sorts of crazy things you can't do at home. But the more you do it, the more the trips blur together. After a while, your tour of duty with N.O.R.E. blurs into your drunken spring break with Busta Rhymes. That's how The Neptunes & Star Trak Presents...Clones, a label-showcase compilation overseen by Neptunes producers Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, feels: It's like a vacation slide show in which vivid memories turn hazy. The familiar guests-ODB, Jay-Z, Kelis-sound much as they did on past Neptunes cuts.

  • Common, 'Electric Circus' (MCA)

    Common has always had something of the faux-hemian about him. Once a plainspoken Chicago B-boy with an allegiance to hip-hop as it was, Common relocated to Brooklyn a few years back to see what hip-hop might become. Before long, he was rocking a bold granola-pimp wardrobe and canoodling with neosoul heroine Erykah Badu. Yet this hippie-come-lately is the first rapper from his circle--a loose, soul-schooled crew that includes the Roots, Mos Def, and Talib Kweli--to make a truly outré artistic statement.Electric Circus, his fifth album, was primarily recorded at Electric Lady, the New York City studio Hendrix built, and the purple haze is in full effect--as is the Afro beat ("Aquarius"),the robot funk ("Star *69 [P.S.

  • Prince Paul, 'Politics of the Business' (Razor & Tie) / The Majesticons, 'Beauty Party' (Big Dada/Ninja Tune)

    Back in 1999, former De La Soul producer Prince Paul released A Prince Among Thieves, a concept album about a naive young MC chewed up and spit out by the game. A savage satire with a breakbeat laugh track, Thieves was bitterly funny and sharper than a box cutter. Politics of the Business is a thematic sequel, but the harpoons that Paul hurls at the industry's blubber have lost their edge. Comedian Dave Chappelle is hilarious as a fickle record exec, but his loose riffs have nothing on Eminem foil Steve Berman. The album's best moments--like "Crhyme Pays," featuring Tash and the Beatnuts--come when Paul simply lets his cast do what they do best: brag and boast. Paul's a torchbearer who longs to burn shit down; poet/rapper Mike Ladd is a subversive party crasher, pressing his ear to the wall of the VIP room, hoping to skim a few trade secrets.

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