• dead prez, 'Pulse of the People' (Invasion Music/Boss Up)

    With their third official album, dead prez invoke the current financial meltdown and seize the depressed zeitgeist. Songs like the synth-laden, Bun B-supported "Don't Hate My Grind" find MCs stic.man and M1 brimming with proletariat pride and gleefully critiquing corrupt, bailed-out corporations; the more intense "Warpath" seethes with social unrest, suggesting that the revolution will not be downsized. Still, the duo aren't simply dogmatic: "Summer Time" is both a breezy ride-out anthem and, with its references to food-stamp-friendly fruit stands, a keen snapshot of inner-city life. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Black Eyed Peas, 'The E.N.D.' (Interscope)

    With will.i.am and Fergie now White House VIPs, the Peas hone their post-millennial party anthems to an even more piquantly peppy sheen. On the single "I Gotta Feeling," you can almost hear the corporate scrilla changing hands in time to the indelible hook. But on "Now Generation," a seemingly trite fit of high-tech product placement eventually gives way to a subversive, DeLillo-like critique of modernity (psyche!). Regardless, the Peas keep it exuberantly funky. Witness the trance-y "Rock YourBody," which sounds like would-be stripper music for suburban Bratz doll collectors. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • B-Real, 'Smoke N Mirrors' (Duck Down)

    Los Angeles' Cypress Hill, with their G'd-up-stoner-dude-meets-Beelzebub aesthetic, always represented an exceptional sonic mélange. And on his solo debut, Cypress frontman B-Real exemplifies his group's madcap versatility. He trades vigorous barbs with Damian Marley ("Fire") and spits spirited Spanglish over buoyant guitar ("1 Life"). The clichéd "Gangsta Muzik" is a cumbersome drag, but on "Everything U Want," featuring Black Moon's Buckshot, the elder statesman still holds forth like a helium-breathing demon. Listen: B-Real, "Dr Hyphenstein (ft. Snoop Dogg)" BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • N.Y.OIL, 'Hood Treason' (Babygrande/P.E.M.G.)

    Back in 1991, N.Y.OIL (then known as Kool Kim of the U.M.C.s) dressed like a color-blind Breakin' extra and rapped with clever ebullience about "blue cheese." Seventeen years later, he's resurfaced as an angry elder statesman with a blunt hard-truths message that (mostly) succeeds where it might easily annoy. From his indictment of materialistic rappers "Y'all Should All Get Lynched" (which specifically called out 50 Cent, Dipset, the Game, and Lil' Kim in a controversial video) to the broodingly introspective "Self Destrukkktion," the Staten Island native takes the hip-hop community to task, with sincere intensity rather than sanctimony. Witness the scathing title track, where his anti-crack-rap sentiments seem especially urgent in a post–Hip Hop Is Dead environment. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Nappy Roots, 'The Humdinger' (N.R.E.G.)

    After emerging six years ago as the South's quintessential regular joes with the single "Awnaw," and five years after their equally down-home but less commercially successful second album, Nappy Roots return, trying to reconcile hard times with their desire for a more garish lifestyle. On the synth-laden "Swerve & Lean," the Kentucky crew shows a penchant for flossing, while "Tinted Up" finds Big V boasting that his car window is "dark enough to have Obama in it." Unfortunately, this crisis in ideology means that their few attempts at, well, rootsiness ("Small Towns") come off as a bit beleaguered. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • J-Live, 'Then What Happened?' (BBE)

    Since his classic underground debut album, 2001's The Best Part, former Brooklyn schoolteacher J-Live has enjoyed cultlike status as the quintessential no-frills indie MC -- literate but genially pointed. His fourth full-length, despite patchy stretches, exhibits that same low-key charm and introspective wordplay (with help from De La Soul's Posdnuos, Jurassic 5's Chali 2na, and DJ Spinna). On the spirited "It Don't Stop," he spits cleverly defiant one-liners, then unfolds a witty house-party narrative on "Ole." Unfortunately, potentially fiery tracks ("The Upgrade," "What You Holdin'?") suffer from too-tepid flows. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Bun-B, 'II Trill' (Rap-a-Lot/Asylum)

    Legendary Houston fixture Bun B has a flair for Southern-fried folksiness and lyrics that are as poignantly evocative as they are salaciously entertaining. On this sequel to 2005's Trill, the erstwhile UGK member captures his region's playful charm ("Pop It 4 Pimp") while revealing his thoughtful side, via politically charged gems ("Get Cha Issue") and a benediction for partner Pimp C, who died last winter. The strip-club anthems are reliably present. But Bun combines swagger with substance without losing a step. Now, that's edutainment. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • The Roots, 'Rising Down' (Def Jam)

    As a general rule, Roots albums don't offer immediate gratification. Their concept-driven themes demand repeat listens, which doubtless can be attributed to the complex, good-cop/Bad Lieutenant dichotomy between the band's founding members, drummer/producer ?uestlove and MC Black Thought. These self-described polar opposites have, ostensibly, left the creative direction of a project to the other (2006's outré Game Theory echoed ?uestlove's sonically adventurous sensibility; 2004's pugnacious The Tipping Point was seemingly Black Thought's baby). But the "chocolate in my peanut butter" dualism is always there on the periphery, often raising more questions than it answers, as on 2002's vexingly schizophrenic Phrenology. The Roots' eighth studio album initially appears to reflect Thought's battle-rap predilections, with a swaggering return to raw braggadocio.

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