Consumer Guide

Hip hop is rich and unexpected enough these days to shore up a curmudgeon's faith in musical youth. Not that he sees any percentage in following the lead of a "hip hop community" that, insofar as it exists, makes no allowances for curmudgeons. Queen Latifah, old fart--yeah, sure.

BLACK STAR: Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star (Rawkus) As "underground" freestylers, they like their beats stark, claiming old school and achieving arty like so many neoclassicists before them. Even saluting Slick Rick (in a tale where the bad kid jacks beats instead of grandmas) or the Funky Four Plus One (and neoclassicist breakdancers), they're never "raw," no matter what they think. On the contrary, they're cooked as hell. Making hard lyrical as they drop "black like the perception of who on welfare" and "you must be history because you keep repeating yourself," they devise a hip hop imaginary where hater players lose their girls-not-bitches to MCs so disinterested they give 'em right back. The rhymes are the selling point. But just because the beats are so understated, the subculture that cares most about those rhymes is what you'll go back to. A MINUS

CANIBUS: Can-I-Bus (Universal) So what exactly is supposed to be wrong here? His bragging, tsk-tsk? His retrograde reliance on "bitch" and such? His fealty to the Betrayer of Lauryn Hill? His voice, all gritty and ugly and clear and New York? His "flow," Lord help us? He doesn't flow, he overflows, spouting extra verbiage when any normal logorrheic would shut the eff up, and that form-fucking illusion of distended stanza is his flow. Unfettered after the manner of Kool Moe Dee, uncanny after the manner of Fox Mulder, and uproarious either way, he makes sure his gangsta tropes stay that way because he believes language supercedes reality. And all this I pinned down after being sucked in by the chamber orchestra, Hawaiian guitar, mixed-down Wagner, Claudine Longet parody, Wonder Mike parody, and Roxanne Shanté sample. You'll gasp. You'll chortle. You'll wonder what exactly is supposed to be wrong here. A

GEORGE CLINTON & THE P-FUNK ALL STARS: Dope Dogs (Dogone) The Goduncle hasn't made a bad record since the band broke up or an exciting one since Computer Games. Until now. The secret is that instead of adapting to youthcult fashion, a trick he manages like no other fiftysomething can, he indulges an idée fixe. Don't try this at home, kids, but for years he's been fascinated by the involvement of Old Mac Uncle's CIA ("I-O") in contraband--meaning weapons, ultimately, but more enjoyable threats to human life first. So he starts by assuming dogs sniff dope because they gotta have it and takes off. Just about every song has both dogs and dope in it, with variations as comical as Mr. Wiggles the Worm and considerably darker. The funk is long on guitar and capable of anything. Is that bebop? You know, behind the elementary-school rappers and the pill-popping poodle? A

GOODIE MOB: Still Standing (LaFace) Their drawls as thick as their funk, they create a Dirty South at once more impenetrable and more inviting than Eightball's or Master P's--in feeling, one of hip hop's most neighborly spaces. Musically and verbally, they're too textural, but no one else cultivates such territory with such care, and their Allmans homage/rip is almost as inspirational as this preachment: "I'm sick of lyin'/I'm sick of glorifyin' dyin'/I'm sick of not tryin'." B PLUS

TED HAWKINS: Suffer No More: The Ted Hawkins Story (Rhino) Maybe the radical alarm and homely detail of "Sorry You're Sick" are less unguarded than they seem--this guy made his living disarming passersby. Even so, Hawkins's two Rounder releases achieve an aesthetic of the natural--songs about combs, about doing the dishes, about vagrant desire. The U.K.-only late-'80s selections are pedestrian by comparison--beautifully sung, but incompletely imagined and indifferently arranged. Because compiler Gary Stewart thinks like a collector and adores Hawkins, a summing-up that might have established an American original is only a misleading introduction--to an American original. B PLUS

JOHN LEE HOOKER: The Best of Friends (Pointblank) With the millennium approaching as speedily as Hook's 140th birthday, his brain trust devises an easy yet effective celebration, mining the interchangeable output of his hundred-thirties for standout cameos and adding yet more special guests. And though he was warned not to overtax himself with these, you'd never know it from the Claptonized "Boogie Chillen" that sets him in his groove. Carlos Santana, Ry Cooder, Jimmie Vaughan, Los Lobos, and Bonnie Raitt also get him hard. A MINUS

KATE & ANNA MCGARRIGLE: The McGarrigle Hour (Hannibal) The secret message of this family get-together, which literalizes the well-tended domesticity underlying every record they've made, is that self-expression is for kids. Let Rufus and Martha confess and emote, and sure, jolly Uncle Chaim into going public with that lonely tune of his--it's so modest it'll fit right in. Because what the grown-ups in charge are after is songs per se, songs of every provenance and orientation. Berlin and Porter and Foster at their most quiet and obscure, folk songs from hither and yon, that hootenanny refrain they were once so sick of, good old "Young Love." Loudon has no choice but to sing his heart out for once, and Linda is so peripheral she wonders why she dropped in. By the time Martha hits that impossible high note on a slow-dance finale originally cribbed from Schubert and Liszt for Earl Carroll's Vanities of 1931, we know she's not putting Mom and Dad on notice. She's just loving the song, loving the song. A MINUS

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