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DE LA SOUL, Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump, Tommy Boy
De La Soul has a knack for putting out albums at just the right time. Part one of a three-album set, this unusually guest-heavy De La album steps away from the "bling, bling" for a moment to focus on other worthwhile -- and equally entertaining -- subjects. This time, Pos, Dave and Maseo extend the family tree beyond the Native Tongues to include the likes of Tha Alkaholiks and the Beastie Boys. J-Ro, Tash and Xzibit drop in for "My Writes," while Mike D and Ad Rock take some time out to "Squat!" Redman also makes a welcome appearance on the first single, "Oooh," as does Chaka Khan on "All Good?" Busta Rhymes and Freddie Foxx bring their respective energies to "I.C. Y'all" and ""U Don't Wanna B.D.S." Pharoahe Monch, Phife and Black Thought make humorous cameos on the three "ghost weed" skits, and newcomer Indeed shines on "Set the Mood," a track that might have you ejecting the CD and wiping it down at first listen when Maseo stutters and "skips" through his intro. De La doesn't have to rely on the guest spots to carry the album, though. "Declaration" is classic Posdunous that would be right at home on Buhloone Mindstate, and the funky foursome of "U Can Do," "With Me," "Copa (Cabanga)" and "The Art of Getting Jumped" are also tight. Thankfully, De La Soul provides music that matures alongside its original audience instead of catering to current trends.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Mason Storm

WYCLEF JEAN, The Ecleftic: 2 Sides II A Book, Columbia
Define hip-hop. Actually, define music. You can't really do it can you? Well Wyclef Jean and Jerry "Wonder" Duplessis can and they do it on so many levels it's incredible. Now there will be a few haters screaming at the top of their lungs that Wyclef has gone hip-pop, but that is far from the truth. Wyclef has expanded the hip-hop music boundary to amazing places, places that it may never see again. This CD has got everything -- rap, country, rock, '70s funk, R&B and many more forms of music. The album starts with Wyclef doing a straight hip-hop call out on "Where Fugees At?" The disc then bounces to "Kenny Rogers-Pharoahe Monch Dub Plate," a country song with Kenny singing over the "Simon Says" beat and Pharoahe Monch, well, rapping to it. Wyclef shows his down south influences by dropping "Thug Angels." Wyclef calls in the help of newcomers Small World on this bouncy southern track. The one sleeper on the album is "It Doesn't Matter" featuring The Rock's overdone chorus. This cut will guarantee a younger fan base for Wyclef, but if you're into deeper lyrics skip to the next track, "911." How many different musical influences can Wyclef have? Wyclef and Mary J. Blige sing heartbroken verses with an electrical guitar riff in the background -- simply amazing. "Shut up, you know you messed up right?" Wyclef spits with venom on his "underground" track, "Pullin' Me In." This is the song with the best battle lyrics: "Hip-hop fans y'all like the woman in my house/ no matter how faithful I am y'all still have your doubts/ Talkin' bout is he real in this relationship or did he go poppin' on the side get a mistress?/ My mistress is a guitar classical like Mozart/ Paint murder on the wall just to show you a sonnet. "Da Cypha" is another battle song that sounds like a Fugee posse cut, but no Fugees on this one. Instead, three wanna-be's -- Supreme C, Marie Antoinette, and Hope -- appear that definetly need more time in the Booga Basement. Earth, Wind, and Fire? What the f---? On a new release record? Yeah, that's right Wyclef brought back the classics for "Runaway." With such a beautiful soundscape, Earth, Wind, and Fire are just the icing on the cake. Skip the next skit and go right in to "Perfect Gentleman," Wyclef's strip joint song. He poses an interesting question at the end of the song: "Preachers, you calling the strippers whores, but he who cast the first stone casts the first sin." "Low Income" is another anthem of sorts, but this one is the work anthem. The next song, "Whitney Houston Dub Plate," has the original diva singing a capella. "However You Want It" has a nice African beat with even nicer lyrics. "Hollyhood to Hollywood" has the Small World crew again busting lyrical caps. Remember Amadou Diallo? Of course you do, and so does Wyclef. He pays tribute to him on this Rastafarian track. Wyclef poses yet another interesting question: "Have you ever been shot 41 times?/ Have you ever screamed and no one heard you cry?/ Have you ever died so you can live?/ Have you ever lived so you can die again?" "Something About Mary" is an absolutely hilarious weed song. "Bus Search" is a fairly good skit that leads up to "Wish You Were Here," a dedication to Wyclef's dead fam. "Ce Na Me Fait Rien" is the French remix of "It Doesn't Matter" -- interesting but it doesn't bring much to the album. Wyclef Jean's influences expand into every musical category on the face of this earth. This album is probably one of the most musically diverse in history. Wyclef did an amazing job and deserves a lot of respect for this masterpiece.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Sam

NELLY, Country Grammar, Universal
Add St. Louis to the hip-hop map. This navigational aid comes courtesy of Nelly, the St. Lunatic whose "Country Grammar" slowly blew up to summer jam status. Nelly's sing-song style of swing continues throughout the album to give hip-hop yet another territorial flavor. "Utha Side" sounds like some next level "Space Age Pimpin'" with its computerized slow flow. The guitar licks on "Ride Wit Me" would fit right in on an Outkast album, save for the "must be the money"-themed lyrics. "E.I." twists Speedy Gonzalez' trademark phrase into a surprisingly catchy hook. "Batter Up" is the posse cut set to the theme of "The Jeffersons," with each St. Lunatic taking his turn at bat. The album closes with "Luven Me," a heartfelt tribute to the people who supported him from day one. Despite inevitable comparisons to the two camps located a little farther south along Mississippi, Nelly more than holds his own with Cash Money's Lil' Wayne on "For My." Nelly still has a long way to go before he becomes the "Midwest's Master P," but Country Grammar certainly serves as a good launching pad.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Mason Storm

ERICK ONASIS, Def Squad Presents..., Dreamworks
Being an MC and a producer is hard work, especially if you've been in the game as long as Erick Sermon a.k.a. Erick Onasis. Erick produces 10 out of the 16 tracks well on the album -- rapping, speaking, and acting on just about every one. The production is top notch and up to par with all EPMD LPs. But the MCing is another thing. Erick is not really known for groundbreaking rhymes, so he relies on other MCs to deliver the lyrical goods. Sure, Erick can drop gangsterous lyrics, but the real standout lyrical giant is the brick city rhymer, Redman, on "Hostility." One of the most vicious lyrical beatdowns delivered in the new millennium is dropped with ease: "Yo, why you buggin?/ I stick a 16-shot slug in your ear/ Put it to my d--- so you hear me coming/ I.C.U. critical, up on a stretcher/ The 45 undresser, put on the pressure/ You need a bulletproof overall suit to protect your neck up/ You dealin' then shuffle the deck up/ F--- the IRS, I'm the NRS/ N---- Revenue Service, talico inserter/ Murder, a six letter word to convert a/ Beef you better off flippin beef at Fat Burger/ Yo Keith, pull out the burner/ Yeah, tannin' your body more than white boy surfers/ I carry tools like Sears Surplus/ So when I spit you catch heart murmurs/ Word, you sweeter than cupcakes." The CD bounces along at a frantic pace except for unnecessary skits that just stop the flow of the album. "Vangundy" is "the posse cut" on the album where Erick throws unknowns Big Kim, Sy Scott, Nolan Epps, Bo & Ruck, Billy Billions and the only appearance by fellow EPMD member PMD. PMD definitely does his thing on his 20 bars, but the other MCs need a little while longer to get into the groove of things. "Ain't Shhhhhh To Discuss" has Erick trading the old "give me the coke, bling bling, murda murda" with Teflon Da Don and Lil' Noah, while "Get Da Money" pairs him with "Murda-rer" Ja Rule. The care-free "Why Not" brings Slick Rick and Erick together on this bouncy rhythmic track. "I Do 'Em" has bass -- so much bass that no matter what kind of speakers you listen to the song with they'll be booming. "So Sweet" yanks an Eazy E verse out of the vaults and puts it on a nice piano-laced track -- a good example of how talented an MC and producer Erick is. But then come the wave of sleepers "Live It Up," "Feel Me Baby," and "Can't Stop." The best collabos come on the second half of the album. "Focus." which features DJ Quik and Xzibit, will keep the clubs bouncin' for months with signature funk from E with a hint of DJ Quik production. To wrap the album up, E pulls out another vaulted song, "Fat Gold Chain" featuring Too Short. This song, which originally appeared on Short's Dangerous Crew compilation, closes the album on a good note. All in all Erick can run with anybody as long as he sticks to what he knows and not wander off into uncharted territory.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Sam

EMINEM, The Marshall Mathers LP, Aftermath
Slim Shady is back. And he picks up right where he left off despite the fact that he has added legions of mainstream, TRL-loving fans to his stable of supporters. Eminem wastes no time insulting his newfound fan base on the intro before heading into "Kill You," which is lovingly dedicated to his mother. He once again directs some venom at his wife on "Kim," a prelude to the controversial "'97 Bonnie & Clyde" from 1999's The Slim Shady LP, but most of his fire is aimed at Detroit rivals Insane Clown Posse and TRL mainstays Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and N Sync. The first single, "The Real Slim Shady," has generated plenty of publicity for its accusations against Aguilera, but he also addresses the teen scene on "I'm Back," "The Way I Am" and "Marshall Mathers." There's no question that the lyrics are raw, but the targets aren't very challenging. Certainly Eminem, a freestyle veteran of the Rap Olympics, could hold his own trading insults with someone other than Will Smith. As violent as his lyrics might get, Em shows that he still has a conscience on "Stan." The story is told in the form of letters from a fan who has taken Eminem's first album too seriously. When Eminem finally responds, it's too late. The gem of the album is "B Please II" featuring Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Xzibit and Nate Dogg. Eminem closes out the solid track with a verse that starts out by mimicking Snoop's performance on the original. Also of note are "Drug Ballad," a subtle but unusually funky tale of how he likes to spend his nights out, and "Remember Me?" featuring Sticky Fingaz and RBX, who used the concept of this track on his underrated debut album back in 1995. A classic album in the sense that this probably will be considered his greatest work, The Marshall Mathers LP still comes up short of perfect.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Mason Storm

BIG L, The Big Picture, Rawkus
Before I go on with this review, let's take a look at what Big L (Lamont Coleman) was. He was a stunning lyricist, an entrepeneur, a believer in the almighty, he was his mother's son, and his unborn seed's father. With these things in mind believe me when I tell you that Big L should be put up in the ranks of greats like 2Pac, B.I.G., a young Nas, Eazy E, Grandmaster Flash, and even Jay-Z. Big L deserves a place among these men as one of the most slick-talking, most well-crafted MCs in the history of hip-hop. Everything L did has been done before but never with so much grace and elegance. L drops hard knock lyrics but still does it with finesse. "Ebonics" is a prime example of that. You've probably read the lyrics to that by now (check the DITC review) so I don't need to type them out. "The Enemy," which also was on the DITC album, makes an appearance here as well. "Size 'Em Up" features a hard-rocking beat provided by Ron Browz as Big L drops lyrical poisons: "Ayo, I shoulda been out/ I'm deadly when I pull the pin out/ Keep frontin', I'ma try yo' chin out/ I knocked a lot of men out/ I left 'em on the floor spittin' phlegm out/ It's either that or I'ma squeeze the gat and pop ten out." The CD continues to bounce into "Deadly Combination" with the one, the only 2Pac. If both MCs were alive there would be hell in the game. The song is just like the title -- it's a deadly combination. Not only could L pen his lyrics, he could freestyle better than a lot of the veterans out there "'98 Freestyle" proves that. No write-up needed, just listen to it. "Holdin' It Down" features unheard -- yet well-rehearsed -- MC Stan Spit, AG and Miss Jones. Stan Spit steals the lyrical crown on this song. "The Heist" shows L's storytelling skills are a force to be reckoned with. When I tell you it's time to "Fall Back," I mean it. Another deadly combination on this one -- Kool G Rap with his dawg Big L -- the hardcore ganster rap fan would be wetting himself with this duo. "Flamboyant" is the almost required sleeper on an otherwise excellent album. On "Casualties Of A Dice Game", the influence of Nas' "The Message" is uncanny throughout yet another storytelling episode by L. Hopefully by the time you read this L will be "Platinum Plus." Big L does his thing on this song but Big Daddy Kane does his better -- at least on this cut. "Who You Slidin' With" with Stan Spit is the lady pickup song. The hook is good: "What up miss, who you hidin wit?/ Who you slidin wit?/ Who you ridin wit?/ We can jump in the SL/ Rent a room at the best 'tel/ I make it last cause I sex well." "Games" featuring Sadat X and Guru ryhming over...what??? Not a Primo track?? Nope, it's a newcomer to the producing game, Ysae. This song is warning all the guys about the sheisty broads who try and play like you the baby's daddy. "The Heist Revisited" is just a remix of "The Heist." At the end of the CD "The Triboro" hits you like the freight train it is. This track is worth the purchase of the album alone. This CD is hard to listen to in one sitting, because you go into this daze after the first couple of tracks, and you won't get the full serving of the lyrics unless you listen to the album one track at a time. This disc gets the $50 rating because Big L was a gifted lyricist and now that he's passed on, there will be no more tracks by him. He only had this one last time to shine, and shine he did. R.I.P. Lamont Coleman a.k.a. Big L. "What's this motherf-----' rap game without L?/ Yo, that's like jewels without ice/ That's like China without rice/ or the Holy Bible without Christ/ or the Bulls without Mike/ or crackheads without pipes/ The Village without dykes/ or hockey games without fights." -- Big L "The Big Picture."
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Sam

SAUCE MONEY, Middle Finger U, Priority
"You motherf------ is sick, don't think Sauce the sh--/ So many n----- on my nuts I thought I lost my d---." A couple of years ago this verse hit cats with a whole new style of hotness. Sauce Money dropped an absolute classic verse on the posse cut "Reservoir Dogs" off Jay-Z's Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life. Then he kind of just disappeared for a few years. Sure, he did a couple of guest appearances, ghost-wrote a few songs but he didn't drop anything really tight. Finally, over a year later Sauce decides to go for dolo and do his thing. Sauce starts the CD off with a quick couple of bars on the intro and drops straight into "We Gonna Rock." The production on this song absolutely stinks and, well, so do the lyrics. "Love & War" is just a waste of music -- skip it. Then what you have come to expect from Sauce just hits you like a bullet to the head. "For My Hustlaz" just straight bounces. It's almost like Sauce is a new jack in the game scrambling to make ends meet. "Middle Finger U" shows Sauce flowing to an almost techno track. "Do You See" featuring Puff Daddy is an absolute embarassment. You can tell Sauce penned the lyrics for Puff just like he did on "I'll Be Missing You." Puff's performance made me almost want to chuck the album, but I held on and hoped that it would get better, which it did. "Face Off 2000" shows Sauce and fellow partner in rhyme Jay-Z flipping tight pimp game on a nice kick-back track. Sauce flows well on laid-back production but when he's on speedy, spit-your-rhyme-and-be-out stuff he just doesn't sound good. "What's That, F--- That" -- skip it. "Chart Climbing" -- skip it. "Crime Skit" is absolutely the dumbest skit I've ever heard. "Intruder Alert" is Sauce's shot at storytelling, which he does extremly well, especially on a hot, DJ Premier-laced track. "C My 1's" -- skip it. "Pre-game" featuring Jay-Z, again, is a refreshing song from the otherwise not-so-hot CD. "Say Unkle" -- skip it. "Section 53, Row 78" is Sauce's dedication to his dead mother. Nice to hear Sauce get his lyrics together and realize it doesn't have to be corny one-liners all the time. "What's My Name" -- skip it. I thought the "Crime Skit" was bad, but "V1 Skit" is worse. Finally, "What We Do" featuring Memphis Bleek gives Sauce a chance to take a break and get his stuff together to give you what you really want from him -- well-written, absolutely sewn-tight lyrics. If Sauce Money would get rid of half his one-liners and stop bragging so much about his money and cars this would be a good debut album. But this Sauce leaves you with a sour taste in your mouth that you just can't get rid of.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Sam

DJ QUIK, Balance & Options, Arista
DJ Quik's fifth album, Balance & Options, sounds a lot like his last album, 1998's Rhythm-al-ism, which is not at all a bad thing. The CD is loaded with that thick, full production; AMG, Mausberg and Suga Free return; and James DeBarge takes over where El DeBarge left off. The first single, "Pitch In On A Party," continues the feel-good vibe that Quik has embraced of late. He prefers not to glorify the gangsta life anymore, and he shows that on "I Don't Wanna Party Wit U," which is basically a sequel to "You'z A Ganxsta." In addition to the tracks featuring his past and present people, Quik also gets some outside help on "U Ain't Fresh," which brings in Erick Sermon and Kam, and "Well," which displays the talents of Mausberg and Raphael Saadiq. And it's always good to hear from Digital Underground, who on "Do Whutcha Want" update "Doowutchyalike," bringing their usual (or is it unusual?) flavor to the table. "Quik's Groove V" once again showcases his untouchable production skills on an instrumental, but this time he also adds a dedication to Roger Troutman with "Roger's Groove." Quik also pays tribute to Eazy E on "Quikker Said Than Dunn," a somewhat sanitized version of the late great's early hit. But the best track on the album just might be "Do I Love Her?" a fast-paced, low-key departure from the norm featuring Suga Free. Once again, DJ Quik comes through with a solid, consistent effort.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- J Rough

DAZ DILLINGER, R.A.W., DPG
After years being stranded on Death Row, Daz is finally the last to leave. At first glance this album might appear to be a bootleg or one of those albums with a bunch of old tracks from before he became famous, but rest assured this is the millennium edition of Daz. Many of the best tracks on the album, which was released independently by Daz himself, feature Kurupt, but that's okay because he's all over it. "I'd Rather Lie 2 Ya" forsakes that laid-back funk for a fast-paced, lyrically driven sound. "On Tha Grind" slows it down for a minute, while "My System" features a subtle track that's not much more than a bassline. Other notable DPG collabos are "Feels Good," which could be one of those summer jams, and the title track, which uses a tried-and-true G-funk formula. And even on those cuts that don't pair him with the more lyrical half of the Dogg Pound, Daz still shines. "Baccstabber" features the return of the mack, Mark Morrison, and Tray Deee, who also appears on "U Ain't Know'n." "One-Nine-99" and "Who's Knocc'n at My Door" revives the original Big Pimpin' once again, while Soopafly and Mac Shawn appear on "Your Gyrlfriend 2." Produced in its entirety by Daz, Raw serves as a nice sequel to Kurupt's 1999 release, The Streetz Iz A Mutha, but ultimately comes up short when compared to that album or even his one-time mentor Dr. Dre's 2001.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Mason Storm

BLACK ROB, Life Story, Bad Boy
G-Dep on "Down The Line Joint" sums this album up the best: "Sex, cars, money and murder." After a ton of past release dates that fell through, Puff Daddy's street soldier, Black Rob, drops his debut album. First things first, the production on this album is off the hook, Bad Boy should definitely bring in more producers to do the tracks on future joints, 'cause it is banging. It's good to see that Puff has gotten off his high horse and allowed other people to produce this album. The title track explains where Rob is coming from and why he has the right to spit in this game. By now you've probably already heard the first single on the album, "Whoa." Yeah, it's still bouncing. The one thing that makes this CD lag is the large amount of interludes, but the songs after the interludes usually make up for it. "Lookin At Us" with Cee-Lo has Rob telling a story of revenge and murder. The lyrics almost make you feel like you're at the scene: "Stay close dog, we ain't tryin to lose 'em/ Only thing on my dome is what I'm gon' do to 'em/ He killed Keith, I knew that playa since he was small/ Now he ghost, and this crab n----- to blame/ Gotta f--- with his name, Im'a put in his brain/ But slow down, he's pullin over, park right behind that Nova/ If duke wake up, put 36 in his Rover, cut the motor." "Espacio" with Lil' Kim and "Spanish Fly" with Jennifer Lopez are two club cuts that will keep everybody bouncing for sure. "Can I Live" featuring The Lox, "PD World Tour" and "I Dare You" have been in rotation for a couple of years -- they're almost like filler tracks -- but they still have the same impact as the rest of the CD. Two absolute standout tracks are "You Don't Know Me" and "I Love You Baby" featuring Puff Daddy. The latter is actually a track where Puff shows that he can be a gifted rapper. The track speaks on sheisty broads but on a whole new level (think piano and violin background). This album is a refreshing break from Puff's "I just love to dance" era. Black Rob needs no introduction into the game. This album more than proves that Rob is what will probably hold Bad Boy up in its darkest hours.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Sam

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