Haikus and Atmospheres

UNSUNG HEROES
Unleashed (75 Ark)

When underground rappers talk true to their school they mean they got no new beats, and unlike the great punk bands, they're rarely delighted enough by the old ones. Making no claims on anyone else's truth or roots, this U.K.-based transatlantic consortium achieves no-school simplicity freshly and effectively—with slantwise piano figures, brief guitar riffs, solid basslines, and well-aimed scratches and samples that evoke DJ Premier and get a shout-out from Roy Ayers. The raps, a dozen or so voices pursuing a single understated aesthetic, also stick to the basics. Check the opener, in which thwarted legend Rob-O explains/demonstrates why/how he's "Magnificent," and proceed. A MINUS


Pick Hit

ATMOSPHERE
Lucy Ford (Rhymesayers Entertainment)

Although in other manifestations crew chief Slug can get ill, this one-disc double EP collects the thoughts of an alt-rap everyman. Brooding through the long days on caffeine, nicotine, gasoline, and Ant's looped, retarded samples, the voice evokes

Will Smith sans Bel Air—the Depressed Prince of South Minneapolis, clueless in his latest scrape. But Slug understands women better than most male losers, and maintains a winner's enthusiasm for his own talent. Inspirational Verse: "Some got pencils and some got guns/Some know how to stand and some of 'em run/We don't all get along but we sing the same songs/Party for the fight to write." A MINUS

AFRIKA BAMBAATAA
Looking for the Perfect Beat 1980-1985 (Tommy Boy)

What's the name of this nation? Zulu, Zulu. I've never loved electro like Bam the Prophet and miss J. Lydon's "World Destruction," but here at the irreducible least are two of the greatest records of the '80s. The 1982 Arthur Baker space jam "Looking for the Perfect Beat" you know: synth figures and drum rumbles and startling scratches echoing a hooky title cadence that's varied and layered around everyday rapping—rapping that finds all the earth it needs in the patch of grass outside the rec room. Cosmic Force's "Zulu Nation Throwdown" you've maybe read about: Floating over its clattering trap set and nothing-but-a-disco rhyme trading on Lisa Lee's spunky minute of fame, it defines the inspired innocence of first-generation old school and allows me to retire the 1980 Paul Winley

12-inch that's been my most-played vinyl since I went digital. Cosmic Force disappeared posthaste, replaced by the likable Soul Sonic Force, who pass the mic on tracks that range from competent to classic and invite James Brown and Melle Mel to the party. But I'll never forget "These are the devastating words that you never heard before/I'm Lisa Lee, huh/I got rhymes galore/So young ladies out there and from the heavens above . . . " And now here comes Chubby Chubb.

Lisa Lee is gone forever, and so are her girlish ways. A MINUS


Dud of the Month

BLACK EYED PEAS
Bridging the Gap (Interscope)

"Refusing to preach about politics, guns and bitches," as one admirer puts it ("Thankfully there's no inkling of misogyny or homophobia—how refreshing!"), these well-meaners are the Jurassic Five's answer to Arrested Development. Proficient, bland, and dauntingly dull, their only threat is a promise to "take it back to the days of Mantronix" (no, please, anything but that). I can only guess why they clock corporate cash while accessible and manifestly civilized West Coast alt-rap megatalents like Lyrics Born, Del, and Aceyalone explore bootstrap entrepreneurship. Maybe they lucked into connected management. Maybe they take good meeting. Or maybe their very lack of content has the advantage of cosseting the commercial preconceptions that count for so much more with sellers than buyers. B MINUS


Additional Consumer News

HONORABLE MENTION:Solesides Greatest Bumps(Quannum Projects): DJ Shadow and friends show off their goods and their greats, including the better half of that Latyrx album you slept on (Blackalicious, "Swan Lake"; the Gift of Gab, "Rhyme Like a Nut!"; Lateef the Truth Speaker, "Lateef's Freestyle"); Cappadonna, The Yin and the Yang(Epic/Razor Sharp): He wants God in your life—or does he really mean Gods? ("Love Is the Message," "Super Model"); Etta James, Matriarch of the Blues(Private Music): best tracks courtesy of patriarchs Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards ("Gotta Serve Somebody," "Miss You"); Amy Ray, Stag(Daemon): Womyn's heroyne yndulges hyr ynner gyrrrl ("Lucystoners," "Johnny Rottentail"); the Butchies, 3(Mr. Lady): Sometimes I wish their lyrics crunched and played like their guitars, and sometimes I wish their guitars crunched and played ("For Kay," "Huh Huh Hear"); Sam Mangwana, Sam Mangwana Sings Dino Vangu(Stern's Africa): old rumba master's new songs, meaning neoclassicism that misses on one cylinder ("Escrobondo," "Ibrahim"); Marvin Gaye, What's Going On (Deluxe Edition)(Motown): "alternate Detroit mix" useless, concert version hornier and less strung up ("Head Title," "Sixties Medley: That's the Way Love Is/You/I Heard It Through the Grapevine/Little Darling [I Need You]/You're All I Need to Get By/Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing/Your Precious Love/Pride and Joy/Stubborn Kind of Fellow"); Maria Muldaur, Music for Lovers(Telarc): The old torch songs are the best ("Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You," "I Wanna Be Loved"); Rae & Christian, Blazing the Crop(DMC): Mancunian groovemasters sneak Brit hip hop into Yank underground flow (Swollen Members, "S & M on the Rocks"; Mr. Scruff, "Get a Move On"); Jeff Beck, You Had It Coming(Epic): blues yes, drum and bass yes, rock mostly, "jazz" good riddance ("Earthquake," "Dirty Mind"); the Gossip, Thats Not What I Heard(Kill Rock Stars): "Honey ain't no woman like a Southern girl," declares Arkansan female now residing in Northwest bohemia ("Swing Low," "Southern Comfort"); Crossfaderz: Roc Raida of the X-Ecutioners(Moonshine Music): a dream of hip hop radio without hooks or hits (the Arsonists, "The Session"; East Flatbush Project, "Tried by 12"; "Backpack Rapper"); the Donnas, The Donnas Turn 21(Lookout!): skank hos get fucked ("Midnite Snack," "Police Blitz"); Rammstein, Mutter(Republic): pretty funny, especially if you can't get enough jokes about classical music ("Speilhur," "Links").

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