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ANT BANKS PRESENTS T.W.D.Y., Derty Werk, Thump Street
With one compilation already in the bag, Ant Banks, along with Rappin' 4-Tay and Captain Sav'em, has brought it back to the Bay this time. Fueled by a hot lead single, Derty Work has put "The Whole Damn Yey" (T.W.D.Y) area and its trademark sound back on the hip-hop map. Not that Too Short, E-40, B-Legit, and Spice 1 really ever left the rap scene, but Banks has brought all of them and then some together for a celebration of the Oaktown funk. "Cross Me Up," starts the album off right with a track reminiscent of the days of Banks' first album, Sittin' On Somethin' Phat. The first summertime jam of '99, "Players Holiday," uses a classic sample of Bill Withers' "Lovely Day" (the original is featured in those "khakis soul" Gap commercials) to provide the backdrop for the seasoned West Coast lyrics of Banks, 4-Tay, Captain, Short and Mac Mall. "Pervin" brings E-40 and Too Short back together again -- this time without K-Ci & JoJo. The album gives under-appreciated and up-and-coming MCs like Mad CJ Mac and Grip a chance to shine and also features the return of Poohman. Some might say that this compilation comes up short because it doesn't break any new ground, but don't forget that Banks and Co. pioneered this in the first place. Derty Werk brings back the Bay Area sound that's been missing from the rap game.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Butta Parkay

BG, Chopper City in the Ghetto, Cash Money
While most of the world has had limited exposure to the full catalog of the Cash Money camp, an evolution within the crew's national releases over the past year is still evident. The production backbone of Cash Money, Mannie Fresh, uses this album to take his trademark bounce beats a step further and establish himself among the game's elite. In the meantime, BG, on his fifth release overall, emerges as the clique's most prolific lyricist with true-to-life tales of southern hustlin' on standout tracks like "Cash Money Roll," "With Tha BG," "Knock Out" and "Bling, Bling." Once again, Cash Money doesn't disappoint.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Butta Parkay

SNOOP DOGG, Top Dogg, No Limit
This is Snoop's, what, third comeback? Ever since Doggystyle, the fans have been waiting for the D-O-double-G to drop another classic. The first follow-up attempt he didn't have Dre. On the second try he had to prove he was a No Limit Soldier. Now, Snoop seems to be refocused: The flashy cover art is gone, his label-mates' appearances have been, uh ... "limited," and some of the production has been put in the hands of veteran outsiders like DJ Quik and Dr. Dre instead of Beats by the Pound -- no offense, but quantity does not always ensure quality. The album starts out strong with Dre-produced "Buck 'em" (featuring Sticky Fingaz) and "Trust Me" (with Sylk E. Fyne and Suga Free). But the album starts to slip after that. Meach Wells provides almost the exact same beat from "Still a G Thang" for "My Heat Goes Boom." "Snoopafella" follows the tired Snoop formula of rehashing a classic cut with updated lyrics -- this time it's Dana Dane's "Cinderfella" with Ant Banks providing Brick's "Dazz" beat (of "No Vaseline" fame). "Ghetto Symphony" is the No Limit posse cut, but the wild, loud styles of soldiers like Fiend and Mystikal overpower the piano-laced track Marley Marl popularized. Reuniting Snoop with 213 on "Don't Tell" falls short, too, with Nate Dogg dragging out an otherwise decent cut by crooning different lyrics to the tune of "It Ain't No Fun" at the end. Snoop does manage to recapture some of his past glory on tracks like "Betta Days," "Gangsta Ride" (with Silkk the Shocker), "Just Dippin'" (with Dre) and "20 Minutes," which features Goldie Loc, the first artist on Snoop's Dogg House Records. With Top Dogg, it seems Snoop Dogg is finally starting to get back on track. But he's still got a long way to go before he finds the road to the top.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Mason Storm

SUGE KNIGHT, Chronic 2000, Death Row
Remember Concrete Roots? You know, the album that Dr. Dre's former group, the World Class Wreckin' Crew, released in 1994 to capitalize on the success of The Chronic with tracks like "Another G Thang." Chronic 2000 is no different. Suge Knight plays the role of Lonzo, the former partner who wants to make a buck off Dre's name. Top Dogg, who made his debut a while back on a remix of 2Pac's "All About U," is a pathetic imitation of Snoop (or maybe a good imitation of Tha Doggfather version). And of course, you have the female MC (VK, replacing Rage), the hardcore singers (in place of Nate Dogg), an RBX replica and even a 2Pac clone, The Realest. Actually, the real Makaveli represents on two previously unreleased tracks, but that hardly makes it worth the purchase. Originally, this album was supposed to have unreleased Dre and Snoop tracks, too, plus a sampling of classics and remixes from The Chronic '92, but those were scratched. However, the actual Dogg Pound does appear, along with guest appearances by Treach, DJ Quik, E-40 and Scarface, and the production is decidedly updated West Coast g-funk. So, if you don't mind hearing a karaoke tape of copycat MCs, by all means, pick this up. Otherwise, leave this one stranded on the discount row.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Mason Storm

NAUGHTY BY NATURE, Nineteen Naughty Nine: Nature's Fury, Arista
Four years out of the game and ain't a damn thing changed. Treach, Vinnie and KayGee usher in the two-triple-zero with another heaping dose of the head-bobbin' hooks that have kept their hip-hop anthems at the top of the genre's classic track list. "Holiday" and "Jamboree" mix Treach's gritty vocals and Vinnie's wingman delivery with upbeat R&B crooning layered over trademark Naughty beats. Both of these cuts are destined for heavy urban radio rotation (and possibly some Big-Willie-style pop radio play, too). For a dose of Bone meets The People's Court, check "Wicked Bounce." Treach and Vinnie flip Clevelandesque verses over the bass-laden drama music typically reserved for Doug Llewelyn's trial wrap up. Surprisingly, the best Naughty has to offer in '99 isn't their typical bouncy routine ... "On The Run" chronicles the group's harrassment by the law, approriately backed by P.E.'s "Miuzi Weighs A Ton." "Radio" displays obvious influence from L.L. and Run D.M.C. The classic posse cut gets a new lease on life in the form of "The Shivers" courtesy of an appearance by the Chain Gang Platune. Not since "Loyal to the Game" has Treach so easily outshined every other MC in the room that wasn't part of his Illtown trio. The disc also features impressive guest spots from Master P., Silkk The Shocker, Mystikal, Krayzie Bone and Big Pun, as well as newcomer Phiness, showcasing impressive R&B talent.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- The W, a.k.a. Tom Bodett

RUFF RYDERS, Ryde or Die Vol. 1, Ruff Ryders
It seems that compilation albums in hip-hop have become the norm these days, and the fledgling Ruff Ryders label is no exception. Led by 20-year-old producing prodigy Swizz Beatz, the Ruff Ryders have proven that they will be a formidable entity in the next millennium. The first single released from the album is one that is still ringing in everyone's ears. "Jigga My N----," from the incomparable Jay-Z is a mad catchy tune that is one of the summer's hottest jams. "What You Want" by newcomer Eve is another song that enjoys tremendous air time on BET, MTV, and The Box. The blonde bombshell flaunts her sexuality on the track, while lettin' brothas know that they'll never be able to touch. The LOX continue their armed assault on hip-hop with "Dope $," the hardest song on the album, documenting the group's mastery of both the rap game and the dope game. Jadakiss from the LOX even makes a solo appearance on "Kiss of Death," and shows why his upcoming solo project is one of the most heavily anticpated albums in NYC. Beanie Siegal's first verse on "The Hood" is a strong standout while Drag-On and Mysonne make distinguished efforts. The title track, "Ryde or Die," is another bangin' track where The LOX, DMX, Drag-On and Eve all shine over a sample from EPMD's classic "Head Banger." The album's greatest surprise though comes from the label's R&B group Parle. "I'm a Ruff Ryder" is probably one of the best balads I've heard all year and promises to 'parle' the group into stardom. Ryde or Die Vol. 1 is a solid album throughout. And in a summer that has not yielded too many notable hip-hop albums to date, it is a must have.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Cvere

NAS, I Am, Columbia
This was supposed to be the album of the year. You all know the story: Illmatic's Nasty Nas and It Was Written's Nas Escobar combining to unleash a hip-hop masterpiece. It didn't happen. While the first tastes of I Am -- the Premier-laced "Nas Is Like" and the Kenny Loggins-fueled tribute to Biggie and 2Pac, "We Will Survive," used in the Willie Esco commercials -- left you hungry for more, the main course leaves you feeling empty. Too many creative mistakes -- trying to flow like Bone, attempting to sing, bringing in Puff Daddy for a guest appearance -- distract the listener from the surprisingly deep lyrical content. The end result is an inconsistent album that fails to capture the street value of his debut or the commercial value of his sophomore effort.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Mason Storm

EIGHTBALL & MJG, In Our Lifetime, Suave House
One of the first rap duos to put Memphis on the map returns with another solid offering that's sure to satisfy both the underground fans that have been down since day one as well as the peeps they've picked up along the way from their successful solo projects and frequent guest appearances. In Our Lifetime is full of standout tracks and top-notch production. The first single, "Don't Flex," is another space-age pimp tale, while "Armed Robbery" jacks the beat from "Mission: Impossible." Outkast and Cee-Lo of the Goodie Mob show regional love on "Throw Your Hands Up" and "Paid Dues," respectively. And "Speed" brings the album to a close with a hectic cut filled with the sound effects of a wild ride on the highway. The whole album flows effortlessly from track to track as Eightball & MJG continue to stake their claim for a place at the top of the hip-hop game.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Butta Parkay

HARLEM WORLD, The Movement, All Out
It's a simple formula to follow: Bad Boy artist blows up, starts his own label and releases a debut album by a large group of MCs with one female member. Biggie did it with Junior M.A.F.I.A. Now Mase is trying to do it with Harlem World. You can't blame him for wanting to give his brother and sister -- two of the seven members -- a taste of the good life. But after blasting his commercialized image and shiny suits in a recent issue of The Source, proclaiming that he was putting the "Murder" back in his name, Mase sells out quicker than Furbies at Christmas with Harlem World's first single and video, "I Really Like It." This one has it all: Mase singing in his high-pitched voice as he's shot out of cannon; the whole group decked out in the latest shiny, leather Evel Knievel fashions; former Baywatch actress Traci Bingham starring as eye candy; little kids dancing in step with our star, "Murder" Mase; and finally, the Mowry twins from "Sister, Sister" thrown in to attract the teenage crowd. Apparently the Olsens and Osmonds weren't available. This is hardcore? Hardly, and the album isn't any better. There's too much good music out there to bother with this album. Maybe next time they won't try so hard to have mass appeal.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Butta Parkay

EMINEM, The Slim Shady LP, Aftermath
Dr. Dre's latest protege has attracted plenty of attention and heavy rotation on MTV by making fun of himself in his debut video, "My Name Is." So much that the usually slow-working Dre might have been forced to rush the album into stores to capitalize on the hype. At least it seems that way, with several tracks featuring basic beats that could have easily been recycled from Eminem's previous effort, "The Slim Shady EP." But what the album lacks in creative talent behind the boards, Eminem makes up for in shock value. Violence and degrading women are two popular themes throughout the album, with the worst of both appearing in a descriptive tale of Slim and his young daughter taking a trip down to the river to dispose of the girl's mother, whose body is in the trunk. So obviously it's not all MTV-friendly. On the best track, "Guilty Conscience," Em gets a few good shots in on Dre in a good vs. evil showdown. The album needs help, but there's probably enough here to build on and keep Eminem in the public eye until his next album drops.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Mason Storm

FOXY BROWN, Chyna Doll, Def Jam
Trying to stay focused on the music while thumbing through a CD booklet scattered with photos of a scantily clad Miss Brown, it became clear that Foxy was content to stick with her same recipe for success this time around rather than grow as an artist. Coming off a solid debut, Foxy continues with tried-and-true formulas for her second effort: covers of hip-hop classics, an all-star cast of guest appearances and text touched by S. Carter, ghostwriter (Jay-Z). But she has picked up some tricks along the way. On "I Can't" (featuring Total), she employs a Puffy-style sample of an '80s hit -- Wham's "Everything She Wants." To appeal to that Southern crowd, Eightball, MJG and Juvenile roll on "Ride." And on "BWA," she takes a cue from Little Kim by bringing in Mia X and Gangsta Boo to cover N.W.A's "Real Niggaz Don't Die." There's no question that the album, with appearances by DMX, Jay-Z and Too $hort laced in, is good -- it's just not very original. That used to be a crime in hip-hop.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Mason Storm

DMX, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, Def Jam
Just seven months after he dropped his debut, DMX returns with a sophomore effort that picks up where It's Dark and Hell Is Hot left off. Heralded as the next 2Pac because of his starring role in "Belly" that might spark a movie career, this Ruff Ryder doesn't hold back just because his added exposure might bring in new listeners. Instead he takes it a step further, gracing his album cover covered with blood and bringing in mainstream shock artist Marilyn Manson to appear on a track. But at the same time, DMX can shift into inspirational mode on tracks like "Coming From" (featuring Mary J. Blige) and "Slippin'." The messages are somewhat mixed, but the beats are solid. The lyrics are hardcore, but the delivery is raw. The bottom line is that the disc could find its way into your deck more often than you might think.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Mason Storm

BUSTA RHYMES, Extinction Level Event, Elektra
Trying to get in one final album before the millennium, Busta Rhymes has provided a quick follow-up to 1997's successful When Disaster Strikes. But E.L.E. is far from an effort that sounds rushed, which isn't surprising given the high level of intensity and energy that defines him. So it seems that Busta has saved his best for last, since he has been predicting since his solo debut in 1996 that the world as we know it will end in 2000. His presence on a track is intimidating and demands your attention, which is why his career has erupted since leaving Leaders of the New School -- it's hard to find someone who can hold his own with Busta. But No Limit's Mystikal does just that, matching Bus' extreme nature rhyme-for-rhyme in "Iz They Wildin' Wit Us & Gettin' Rowdy Wit Us?" But the guests on this album don't carry the album, they highlight it, bringing a different feel to tracks like "What's It Gonna Be?!" (featuring Janet Jackson) and "This Means War!!" (featuring Ozzy Osbourne). Jackson adds sensual flavor, while Osborne seems like a natural fit with Busta over a sample of "Iron Man," even though the concept was done by Sir Mix-A-Lot ten years ago on Swass. Busta fills in the rest of the album with solid solo joints that expand the boundaries of hip-hop like the first single, "Gimme Some More," making this album one of the best of the year.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Mason Storm

REDMAN, Doc's the Name 2000, Def Jam
Never one to put sales before the street, Redman returns with a new prescription of funk on his fourth album -- still in search of his first platinum platter. In essence a tribute album to his home turf in New Jersey, Doc's the Name 2000 is a virtual lock to crack a mil with its all-star cast, solid production, ever-present lyrical madness that only Reggie Noble can provide and heavy rotation for the first single and video, "I'll Bee Dat!" Splitting time behind the boards with funklord Erick Sermon, Redman avoids going pop by staying true to old-school hip-hop with a remake of Ice Cube's "Once Upon A Time In The Projects" and classic samples from Run DMC, Public Enemy, Audio Two, N.W.A and the Beastie Boys. Guest spots by Busta Rhymes, Sermon, Keith Murray and Method Man contribute to the verbal mix of intellect, humor and reality that you can't help but feel. Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Mason Storm

DJ QUIK, Rhythm-al-ism, Profile
"Rap is not music." That's what the critics used to say. If that sentiment still is shared by anyone out there now, then DJ Quik's latest effort should blow it out of the water. Not content to rely on catchy samples to carry the album, Quik has composed a work of funk worthy of the man most likely to take over the West Coast throne. Track after track is produced with the live instrumentation and thick-layered production hip-hop fans have come to expect from Quik. With the departure of most of the Death Row inmates he spent the last few years doing production for, Quik has reunited with all of his original crew -- AMG, 2nd II None and Hi-C, who celebrate the event on "Get 2Getha Again" and appear on tracks throughout the album. But they aren't the only ones Quik looks to make peace with. On "You'z a Ganxta," he appeals to MC Eiht to end their nearly decade-long dispute and dismisses the gangsta life as part of his past. The only drawback to the album is an occasional weak lyric, but as DJ Quik continues to evolve musically and spiritually, he has taken his rightful place among the hip-hop pioneers of this era.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Mason Storm

METHOD MAN, Tical 2000:Judgement Day, Def Jam
As evidenced by the testimonials of the numerous guests ranging from Donald Trump to Janet Jackson, this was one long-delayed and highly anticipated album. But it was well-worth the wait. Method Man sticks to the roots of the Wu-Tang style on the sequel to his debut effort, but laces it with an apocalyptic theme that starts off with a twisted take on New Year's Eve 1999 and culminates in the album's countdown-driven debut single and closing track, "Judgement Day." But Meth still finds time to have fun between dark prophecies on cuts like "Retro Godfather," which injects a dose of soul into the album. If anything, the album could have been used less as a showcase for protege Streetlife, who appears on seven tracks in the hope of creating some buzz for Meth's new record label. The Iron Lung took his time to ensure there was no sophomore slump, but if his vision of the future is accurate, then unfortunately the world won't be around long enough to wait for a third offering. Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Mason Storm

ICE CUBE, War & Peace Vol. 1, Priority
There was a time not long ago that Ice Cube dropped an album every year. And with each album after Death Certificate came criticism. During that time, Cube's movie career took off and in 1993, he dropped his last album of all-new solo material, Lethal Injection. But even while he was off being a movie star, there were signs that the Ice Cube everyone grew up on would return. First there was "Natural Born Killaz" with Dr. Dre, which inspired rumors of an N.W.A reunion. But instead he united with Mack 10 and W.C. for the disappointing Westside Connection album. Then last year, Cube appeared prominently on the soundtrack to his latest movie, "The Players Club," with a hit single, "We Be Clubbin.'" And now, Cube claims to have refocused on his music with this two-disc project, War & Peace. But he might end up glad he released the "War" disc first. That way, he can take the extra time to get the "Peace" disc right. "War" is in no way awful. In fact, lyrically it seems that Ice Cube has returned to form. But too much of the album is formulaic gangsta rap, and at this point in his career, that's not what the fans are looking for from him. It's hard to give a hip-hop legend a five, but Cube has to be held to higher standards, and this time he just didn't reach them.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Mason Storm

THE COUP, Steal This Album, Dogday
It seems appropriate that The Coup quietly is building a career despite its underachieving and underappreciated freshman and sophomore joints. The duo of Boots Riley and Pam the Funkstress may not have reached the top level of sales or success, but they certainly have reached a height of consciousness well beyond the realm of the average hip-hop act. In Riley's verses, you can find the most politically conscious -- but not altogether politically correct -- lyrics this side of the Mississippi, while the beats range from down-home southern harp on the opening track, "The Shipment," to mellowed-out on the epic tale, "Me And Jesus The Pimp in a '79 Granada Last Night." Of course, you could do as the title suggests and Steal This Album, but you shouldn't be disappointed if you pay full price for it either. Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Mason Storm

A TRIBE CALLED QUEST, The Love Movement, Jive
A Tribe Called Quest never recovered from their own success. After dropping two hip-hop classics, Quest grabbed a mainstream audience with their third album, Midnight Marauders. But because of a bad record deal, they hardly have anything to show for it. Now, after a fourth album in 1996 failed to capture the same acclaim, Q-Tip, Phife and Ali Shaheed Muhammad present a hip-hop concept album, their final effort before breaking up. Throughout a series of short, similar songs -- two clock in at less than two minutes and only the last two are more than four -- Tribe seems to be going through the motions, trying to get it over with as soon as possible. Not until the second-to-last track, "The Love," do you really start to feel them. Q-Tip puts the hip-hop business in perspective, praising the efforts of self-made millionaires that have risen out of the ghetto and avoided the pitfalls of shady record companies. The Abstract proclaims that the reason Tribe is still in the game is strictly for the love, but it's obviously over now, with the industry finally catching up to them. A Tribe Called Quest might be no more, but it won't be the last time we hear from the three elements that composed one of the best hip-hop groups of all time.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Mason Storm

OUTKAST, Aquemini, LaFace
Even though these southern players dropped a classic album of cadillac music on their debut, Dre and Big Boi haven't been content to duplicate their success by simply cloning their previous efforts. Instead, Outkast continues their evolution with a deeper brand of hip-hop on their third platter that not only gets you open, but opens your mind. Dre tackles the critics of that consciousness on the first track, "Return of the G," but quickly refocuses his attacks on "Synthesizer," choosing to target those that use the advances of science to enhance their appearance or "make seven babies." (That's right, he's dissin' the septuplets.) But for those that still want a taste of that ol' playa sound, the duo brings plenty of that as well. In fact, "West Savannah" is a cut they left off the first album. The hit singles -- "Rosa Parks" and "Skew It on the Bar-B" -- are here, too. And right after the best cut, "Da Art of Storytellin' (Part 2)," when the cries of "Mamacita" seem to be taking the album in the wrong direction, Outkast recovers with a spoken word track, two cuts featuring Goodie Mob, and a truly grand finale called "Chonkyfire." Aquemini is 75 minutes of diversified styles and solid music. We'll chalk up that one minor misfire to exploring the international flavor of hip-hop and grant the atliens a 50.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Mason Storm

JAY-Z, Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life, Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam
Jigga what? Jigga who? If you don't know by now, you'll be awakened from your deep two-year sleep with the release of Jay-Z's third solo disc. Hard Knock Life is a switch from his previous two albums -- a certified classic, Reasonable Doubt, and a dip into crossover success, In My Lifetime Vol. 1 -- but still takes risks, and still has the man behind the mic -- which should be enough to vault this album well past platinum status. The key element, of course, are the lyrics, and Jigga, the current undisputed champ, doesn't disappoint. Jay-Z trades verses with DMX and The Lox as well as usual suspects Memphis Bleek, Sauce Money, Big Jaz, Too $hort and Foxy Brown, while newcomers Amil and Ja Rule heat up "Can I Get A...," which is also on the "Rush Hour" soundtrack. The disc provides two bonus tracks that also have been heard elsewhere: "It's Alright," off Jigga's own "Streets Is Watching" soundtrack, and "Money Ain't A Thang," which first appeared on Jermaine Dupri's recent album. And if that ain't enough, the disc also can boast the first sample of a Broadway musical: the cast of "Annie" singing the hook on the title track. Once again, Jay-Z delivers a knockout punch without selling out. Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Mason Storm


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