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Hip-Hop Fridays: Ced's Album Reviews III

We continue to look this week at some of the hottest releases for this 4th quarter. Surprisingly, some really good music is dropping of late.

Artist, Album, Rating

Jay-Z, Roc La Familia, 9.0

Hip-Hop needed this album. Jay-Z has done it again. Releasing an album that absorbs the best changes that have come in Hip-Hop of late and offering a few innovations of his own. The album begins with the "Intro", a stalking track full of keyboards, guitars and melodic singing in the background. Jigga talks for a minute over the track and you start to think, "God, I wish he would rhyme over this beat..." And sure enough he does and drops one of the best verses in Hip-Hop history. Really. Yeah, it's that good and so is the rest of the album. The beats are futuristic and the album is full of Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek - the best support staff in all of Hip-Hop. The best cut on the album is "This Can't Be Life" which features Jay-Z, Sigel and Scarface (doesn't Scarface sound so good with the Roc-A-Fella crew?) a deep cut of introspection and reflection of three Black men. The other jewel on the album is a one-of -a kind track "1-900-Hustler" which runs like an infomercial/movie where Bleek and Jay-Z take phone calls from callers and Sigel mans the switchboard. The track has live drums, horns, and cymbals. But surprisingly, it is not Jay-Z, Bleek or Sigel who have the best verse. It is a newcomer, Freeway, who steals the show on this one. Freeway comes to us courtesy of Black Friday Management. Look for him and his nasal flow to blow up in the near future. And Sigel does it again, on "Where Have You Been" a heartfelt message to his absentee father. You haven't seen a picture painted like this since Scarface and Ice Cube first came out. The album is a must for those who are looking for a visionary album with diverse subject matter and witty and honest lyrics.

And those who were disappointed with Jay-Z's last album, don't worry, this album is totally different and leaves the Timbaland tracks alone. It is Jay-Z at his near-best.

Talib Kweli and Hi Tek, Reflections On Eternal, 8.5

The new sound of Hip-Hop continues to emerge. Talib Kweli and Hi Tek make a potent combination and continue the path blazed by Blackstar, Common and Most Def. The album is conscious, musical and filled with witty and intelligent lyrics. The live instruments and samples make for a wonderful concoction and produce an album that can be enjoyed by virtually anyone - the hardcore and casual Hip-Hop fan and even Jazz and R&B fans. My favorite cut is "The Blast" with the catchy chant of " Kweli" and guest appearance from Vinia Mojica. "This Means You" featuring Mos Def is another winner for the lyrical heads out there. For those who are looking for a musical treat that captures some of the flavor of Africa and the Islands "Too Late" and "Africa Dream" are two delicious tracks. "Memories Live" is a soothing track that only a few in Hip-Hop could produce as is "Love Language" a track that talks with maturity about the ups and downs and ins and outs of love. Kool G. Rap, Rah Digga, Xzibit, and Les Nubians all make cameos on the album. If you are looking for an album where the music is as important as the lyrics and the message is as important as the delivery - this album is the answer.

We need more of this in Hip-Hop.

Guru, Jazzmatazz, StreetSoul, 8.0

There is no one with a lyrical flow and musical vision like Gangstar's Guru. While many are only now coming around to using jazz and live instruments in their Hip-Hop tracks, Guru has been doing it for a decade. This album takes his efforts to an even higher level and probably a more palatable form for those who found it hard to digest Guru's first jazz/Hip-Hop album. This time the album is loaded down with cameos from Angie Stone, Donell Jones, Macy Gray, Erykah Badu, The Roots, Amel Larrieux, Isaac Hayes, Junior Reid and Herbie Hancock. And not only are the musical arrangements tight but so are the lyrics - most of the songs on this album have subject matter that most people can relate to and Guru's delivery is as tight and clear as ever. He is certainly one of the most articulate rappers in the game. "Hustlin Daze" produced by DJ Premier and featuring Donnell Jones is a highlight as is "All I Said" with Macy Gray. "Guidance" is a beautiful song dedicated to Guru's son. And "Night Vision" is a brilliant collaboration with Isaac Hayes that only Guru could come up with - imagine Isaac Hayes' voice and ad-libs in the background of a haunting track that captures the essence of city-life. "Who's There?" is a touching track that takes you deep into the trials of those who are trapped on the streets. And "Mashin' Up Da World" with Junior Reid and Prodigal Son of the Wu-Tang camp is very, very tight.

This album is impossible to categorize, as is Guru but if you are open to a variety of flavors this album will have you open.

Outkast, Stankonia, 7.5

You know to expect the unexpected from this Atlanta duo. And anyone who has followed this group over the last 5 years has been brought a long way since the "Southernplayalistic" days. But the group deserves credit for pushing the envelope and they do that and then some on "Stankonia". The album starts with hot track, " Gasoline Dreams" - which has plenty of guitar for those of you who wish that Hip-Hop artists would pick up the stringed instrument a bit more often. But Outkast doesn't stop with just guitars, they have all kind of instruments and sound effects here. And you have to listen to the album closely to catch all of the nuances and wordplay. If you play the album as background music - forget it. You almost have to put the headphones on or take a nice drive in the car and let it all sink in to really feel the whole album. To their credit this is a theme album that demands your attention- many artists are afraid to make albums like this. "Ms. Jackson"is a clever song that in the Outkast-style delivers a serious message with a sense of humor and indirect meanings. "Xplosion" featuring B-Real is another decent track. "Slum Beautiful" featuring Cee-Lo of the Goodie Mob is another catchy track. And that really sums up the album - it is catchy, visionary and a break from some of the monotonous sounds that permeate much of Hip-Hop today.

If you are an Outkast fan, prepare for the next phase of your journey and if you are not - give it a chance and you probably will like what you hear.

Cedric Muhammad

Friday, November 3, 2000

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