Hit It, Now Hold It

Mos Def
Black on Both Sides

"Building it now for the promise of the infinite," Black Star's star overreaches; delete the right tracks, which is always the catch, and his solo CD would pack more power at 55 minutes than it does at 71. I hope someday he learns that what made Chuck Berry better than Elvis Presley wasn't soul, even if that rhymes with rock and roll the way Rolling Stones rhymes with (guess who he prefers) Nina Simone. But the wealth of good-hearted reflection and well-calibrated production overwhelms one's petty objections. "New World Water" isn't just the political song of the year, it's catchy like a motherfucker. "Brooklyn" and "Habitat" are no less geohistorical because they act locally. B Plus

The Spirit Of Cape Verde
Heard in the background, as quiet world-music comps usually are, the saudade here can be vaguely annoying, like somebody unburdening her troubles out of earshot across the room. Listen close, however, and the melancholy seems so deeply imbued it's as if 300,000 islanders had been lulled to sleep by Billie Holiday before they learned to speak. Though it lapses into the genteel sentimentality that mushes up too much samba, there's a little more muscle to the music's technical intricacy and sensual pulse. And if your attention flags, be sure to come back for the farewell instrumental, cut 30 years before sadness became the nation's cash crop. At two minutes and 12 seconds, it's primal. B Plus

Tricky with DJ Muggs and Grease

As always with Tricky, the right idea for pop isn't necessarily just right for him. Beats, of course; songs, sure; a band, who could say no? And right, individual tracks connect pretty good-hot lesbian porn, you devil you. Yet though his soundscapes be obscure and forbidding, they're what he's great at; his rap affinities and rock dreams are off the point, especially in the studio. So the best thing about these shapely selections is that they remain obscure and forbidding as they stand up and announce themselves. Second-best is their scorn for criminal pretensions, always a boon from a borderline nihilist. A Minus

Pick Hit

Gang Starr
Full Clip: A Decade of Gang Starr

A longtime agnostic in re Guru and Premier except as regards the former's ill-advised Roy Ayers? Donald Byrd trip, I'm grateful for this exemplary compilation.

For anybody wondering what "flow" can mean, Guru's smooth, unshowy delivery, cool in its confident warmth and swift without ever burying words or betraying rush, is one ideal, and Premier's steady drums 'n' bass, just barely touched by anything that would pass for a hook, undergird his groove with discretion and power. My problem has always been the music's formalism-the way it encouraged adepts to bask in skillful sounds and rhymes that abjure commerce and tough-guyism. But reducing five albums to two CDs not only ups the pop density, as you'd expect, but achieves variety by jumbling chronology and mixing in B sides and soundtrack one-offs that weren't cut to any album's flow. It's a credit to the duo's constancy that the result plays like a single release. And despite his occasional bad-girl tales and images of sexual submission, Guru's quiet rectitude and disdain for a street rhetoric whose reality he's seen make him a chronicler everybody can learn from. A Minus

Dud of the Month

Puff Daddy
(Bad Boy)

Nobody who didn't want money from him ever said he could rap, but he did have a spirit and a community, both now gone-one because it's harder to stay human on top than to act human getting there, the other because anointing Biggie your coproducer doesn't make him any less gone. Wallowing in otiose thug fantasies and bathetic hater-hating, hiring big names who collect their checks and go, he is indeed hateful if not altogether devoid of musical ideas. And for inducing a cute-sounding little-sounding girl to pronounce the words "hit-makin', money-havin', motherfuckin' pimp" he should be taken to Family Court. C Plus

Additional Consumer News

Honorable Mention:Chuck D Presents Louder Than a Bomb(Rhino): exhortations and commonplaces, old school style (Common Sense, "I Used To Love H.E.R. [Radio Edit]";Ice Cube, "A Bird in the Hand");No More Prisons(Raptivism): convicts not gangstas, agitrap not CNN (Hurricane G, "No More Prisons"; dead prez & Hedrush, "Murda Box"; Daddy-O, "Voices");Luna,The Days of Our Nights(Sire): still a casualty of capitalism-not downsized, but privatized ("Sweet Child o' Mine," "U.S. Out of My Pants!"); ZZ Top,XXX(RCA): meaning of title: very, very dirty (sounding) ("Fearless Boogie," "Beatbox"); Eve, Ruff Ryder's First Lady (Ruff Ryders/Interscope): dogs can't leave that woman alone ("Heaven Only Knows," "My B******," "Love Is Blind"); The Roots, Come Alive(MCA): world-class DJ and beatbox, excellent drummer and bassist, pretty darn good rapper(s), bourgie jazzmatazz ("Proceed," "Love of My Life"); Wilson Pickett, It's Harder Now (Bullseye Blues & Jazz): so wicked it's hard to believe he consented to, ugh, "Soul Survivor"-which opens his show ("What's Under That Dress," "Taxi Love"); New Groove 3: Déconstruire le groove esoterique (REV): at long last acid jazz (Swoon, "Pomegranate garrote"; Henri Lim, ("Aria [Ether Edit]"); Harold Budd & Hector Zazou, Glyph (Made to Measure/Freezone import): downtown minimalism meets ambient techno meets the Algerian half of (how could you forget?) Zazou Bikaye ("The Aperture," "As Fast as I Could Look Away She Was Still There"); Public Enemy, There's a Poison Goin On...(Atomic Pop): hating playas is fine, hating play amn't ("41:19," "What What"); Rahzel, Make the Music 2000 (MCA): having fun with the human beatbox (and friends) in the studio (and on stage) ("Southern Girl," "Night Riders"); The High & Mighty, Home Field Advantage(Rawkus): plenty to boast about, less to be proud of ("The Weed," "The B-Document"); Ronnie Spector, She Talks to Rainbows (Kill Rock Stars): pop queen or punk symbol, she comes direct from the land of dreams ("You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory," "She Talks to Rainbows").

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