Getting Bizzy

Finally, one of those fall bonanzas the biz is always promising. The two Pick Hits are among the year's very best, and several runners-up are truly choice. Beyond OutKast, that's not to predict that any of them will get as bizzy as the biz prefers, of course. But give it credit for trying.

Tje ni Mousso (Polydor/Universal import)

Riding out on the bedriff of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground," this "blind couple of Mali"—their chosen billing, and you should see their sunglasses, since they can't—"déconcertent et séduisent en recyclent avec un fausse naiveté musiques africaines, américaines et européenes," says one Alsatian critic. Got that? "Disconcert and seduce while recycling African, American, and European musics with a false naïveté," only in French it sounds better. Just like the accompanying lyric, whose minitrot reads, "Here we come singing for freedom, happiness and love all over the world." And that's not even to mention the Bambara one summarized as "Welcome to women who respect their husbands." Cheap and charming, they play and sing with the multicultural comfort Malians who emigrate to Abidjan and then Paris rarely find the fit for. A MINUS

Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars (Astralwerks)

As someone who's about as intimate with modern dance music as the radio jocks and collegiate punters Slim accesses with such drunken disregard for subcultural niceties—and who believes house divas are only slightly smarter, popwise, than Slim's fellow sot Jim Morrison—I say this is where Norman Cook achieves the nonstop stupidity breakbeats alone could never bring him. One great idea per song, from anywhere—embellished, of course, with all the sonic tricks he's filched and made his own. "What duh fuck" muttered to infinity. A retox anthem whose time has come. Macy Gray B-in', C-in' and F-in' ya. And for that essential soupçon of soul: a Wet Willie sample! All shallow, all pure as a result—pure escape, pure delight, and, as the cavalcade of gospel postures at the end makes clear, pure spiritual yearning. Transcendence, we all want it. Good thing Cook knows most of us aren't deluded enough to want it all the time. A MINUS

The Sugar Tree (Koch)
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I know Rigby just well enough to worry whether her songs are worth what they cost her in frustration and heartache. But I admire the nakedness of her singing and writing enough to believe I'd feel the same even if mutual friends hadn't engineered a child chair exchange for us back when she was married. Now pursuing fortune and fame in Nashville like many lesser NYC songwriters before her, she shows no signs of turning into Janis Ian, and sexual preference has nothing to do with it—except insofar as men are dicks, of course. She has perspective on her lack of funds, her healthy sexual appetite, her susceptibility to ladies-love-outlaws syndrome, and her self-knowledge itself. Rode hard and put away wet, she's funny about it—"Cynically Yours" is made for an Alt-AC format that will never exist. And she's also touching about it, which is the hard part. A MINUS

(World Music Network import)

Slightly pokier than World Circuit's two Cumbia Cumbia comps, and mouldier as well (most artists born in the '20s and '30s, youngest in '53), these 22 tracks from Colombia's Sonolux label (the World Circuits are Disco Fuentes, for those who know the difference) partake nevertheless of cumbia's sprightly shit-kick, which is several pelvic rolls more fluid than its Tex-Mex conjunto cousins. Despite several avowed dance anthems, it flirts with the generic. But with some out-of-the-way genres, that's just what most of us need. A MINUS

In the Mode (Talkin' Loud/Island)

Size is the most "r&b" of the big junglists, which means not that he knows Booker T. & the M.G.'s by heart, although he may, but simply that he (a) likes content, and (b) prefers black American pop to black Detroit electro. When he indulges himself, he doesn't dream symphonies like Goldie—he channels Chaka Khan and the Wu. "To me, New Forms was a skeleton of ideas which was sifted around in our heads, in our scene," he says. "This is the flesh and the skin. We've definitely put the skin on it." And underneath—muscle, ligament, cartilage, cardiovascular circuitry. The album moves the way you always hope jungle will, like a cross between a tiger and a snake, yet it's also a kind of mix record, with five showcases for Reprazent's serviceable MC Dynamite, who's as useful as the inevitable Method Man in the crucial matter of providing rap sounds. Size has his own Chaka, too. Her name is Onallee, and she takes the record out. A

This or That (Interscope)
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All year I've been wasting good review time listening to the commercially unavailable rap mixtapes Cornerstone Promotion mails out. Hopping hiply among foreshortened current and prospective hits, exclusive freestyles, and unclassifiable obscurities, they convey as no single-artist album can the image of an inexhaustible culture comprising an infinity of adjustable musical parts. Sway and Tech, whose Wake Up Show is said to reach 11.5 million listeners on 17 stations, accomplish something similar on the first major-label rap mix record unimpinged by discernible copyright hassles. Rather than embracing a whole culture, though, they merely establish the underground's right to claim old-school, as when snippets of "I Know You Got Soul," "Looking at the Front Door," and "They Reminisce Over You" lead from the Jurassic 5 to Kool Keith and improve both. Other highlights: "The Anthem" from KRS-One to Xzibit, respect for Canibus, and Eminem's little-boy act. A MINUS

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