Consumer Guide

PRINCE PAUL: Prince Paul Presents a Prince Among Thieves (Tommy Boy)The main thing wrong with this record is that it's too short at 77 minutes: character sketches like Kool Keith's ordnance man, Big Daddy Kane's pimp, and Chubb Rock's crime lord could easily be fleshed out. Deploying hip hop stereotypes of mythic proportions in a coherent fable, it isn't just one of the few hip hop albums ever to make you look forward to the next skit— it's the closest thing to a true rock opera you've ever heard. So root for Chris Rock to turn it into the movie few optioned properties become. And note that while the full meaning of the title track, for instance, depends on the story, the songs hold up when you program around the skits. I'm not claiming Tommy Boy can break the steady-

funking Albert King jam "What U Got," where gangsta Sha and good kid Breeze have much love for each other. But I'm not claiming Sleater-Kinney's about to go gold, either. A

THE ROOTS: Things Fall Apart (MCA)Stop the violence in hip hop, but make an exception if these guys will shoot the piano player. Kamal gets away with his omnipresent ostinato beds here mostly because the band is on an old-school kick. Remembering the music they loved before they discovered jazz lite, they even sample now and then, and let me tell you, I've never been so happy to run into Schoolly-D in my life. What's so consistently annoying on their earlier intelligent records is almost hooky on this one, integral to a flow that certainly does just that, which isn't to say you won't be relieved when it rocks the house instead. Gee— maybe they've gotten more intelligent. B PLUS

Pick Hit: Eminem
Pick Hit: Eminem

SLEATER-KINNEY: The Hot Rock (Kill Rock Stars)What's hard to get used to here, and what's also freshest and perhaps best, is how Corin and Carrie's voices intertwine— even reading the booklet it's hard to keep track of who's saying what to whom about what, as if they'd fallen in love with (or to) the Velvets' "Murder Mystery." Not that meanings would be crystalline in any case, or that they should be. With Cadallaca an outlet for Corin's girlish ways, S-K emerges as a diary of adulthood in all its encroaching intricacy. I mean, the guitars don't crunch like they used to either, and that's the very reason "Get Up" sounds like death and desire at the same time. The reason "The Size of Our Love" sounds like death, on the other hand, is that sometimes love is death. Nobody ever said maturity would be fun and games. A

SOUNDBOMBING (Rawkus)"You record label people gonna die and your family gonna die too motherfuckers." Far more eager than the militantly joyless Company Flow, far more songful than the secretly ambient Lyricist Lounge, this 1997 singles-plus showcase remains "underground" hip hop's most convincing advertisement for itself. Reflection Eternal, a/k/a Black Star plus Mr. Man, add crowd samples and a chorus about Medina to an echoing guitar-piano hook, topping anything on Black Star's secretly smoove debut. Mos Def and Kweli freestyle with feeling. Company Flow give up their catchiest album track and devolve into the more complex Indelible MCs, who "keep tabs like Timothy Leary and/or ASCAP." And Ra the Rugged Man ("all information concerning Ra is currently unknown"), who swears he'll be into "this rap shit" "Till My Heart Stops," admits that actually he's "not succeedin' ": "They turn my mind state into evil 'cause I want everyone dead on this fuckin' earth/It really hurts/ 'Cause if music doesn't work I got nothing left to live for except dyin' in the poorhouse." Pray he returns on volume two. A MINUS

SIDI TOURÉ: Hoga (Stern's Africa)Adept of the trance-prone voodoo called "holley," inventor of a trad-to-the- future band music where guitars vie wildly with calabashes over a swirling drone of African viol, this Songhai, whose day job is with Mali's big official Bambara band, is not to be confused with fellow Songhai Ali Farka Touré. He's weirder, and more active. It's a Gao thing, you wouldn't understand— until you listen, once. A MINUS

DUD OF THE MONTH:

SHAWN MULLINS: Soul's Core (Columbia)Sincerity was smug long before irony was, and while Mullins devoted a long, honorable folk-circuit career to reinventing the feeling before he stumbled on his very own "Taxi"— six indie albums in the trunk of his car and he could still muse, "I don't know what I've been lookin' for, maybe me"!— I figure he'd rather be called smug than dumb or, heaven knows, insincere. Pretty good at observing/concocting the kind of composite characters journalists get fired for, he's so wrought up about their humanity that he rarely captures their humor or grace. That would require establishing a distance from them, and while they may live with distance, poor souls, he can't countenance it in himself. He's like a one-night stand who feels constrained to tell you he loves you instead of making clear why he finds you attractive. Feels icky, right? C PLUS

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