By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
Maybe feeling detached after jail and a car accident, maybe throwing something granola in the mix for these Kanye days, Cassidy's track-nine soul-stirrer "Damn I Miss the Game" is a detour into Lupe Fiasco territory, wherein Mr. "Cash Rulez" insists that he's "getting tired of the dumb rap." Not blowin'-up-your-blogspot like Nas's "Where Are They Now?", Cass still sees hip-hop as a fading timeline, complaining about hyphy, snap, and trap over the dubbed-out middle of Marvin Gaye's "I Wanna Be Where You Are" (you know, from I Want You, the album with the Ernie Barnes cover painting that Camp Lo used as inspiration for back-to-basics classic Uptown Saturday Night). A 25-year-old rapper reminiscing about Melle Mel and Kurtis Blow records that were out before he was born, Cassidy sounds like he's itching to go the Chamillionaire routewhy not, he's good at itbut is still kind of tethered by all those other songs about stacking paper and not snitching and riding in private planes and getting your drink and your two-step on.
"I Move Chickens"
From Back to the Traphouse
Not that we need another trap-rap song starring a cartoon-cute metaphor for cocaine ready for its close-up on a 10th-grader's T-shirt during a Fox News Special Report, but Alabama MC Gucci Mane isn't hustling to get baller money on track 13 of his major-label debuthe's trying to pay his rent. There's a little more desperation and darkness in Gucci (whose actual legal problems are no joke), and it's most evident in the chorus, sampled from his own "Bird Flu" but given a haunting, cosmic, no-hope phaser effect like Lil Jon's "What U Gon' Do" or Rammelzee's "Beat Bop."
Styles P ft. Jadakiss and Sheek Louch
From Super Gangster (Extraordinary Gentleman)
Maybe this is relegated to track 18 because it's a show-stealing reminder of how incredible the chemistry still is between these three MCsonce recording hit after hit as the L.O.X. and D-Block, now currently without a deal or a MySpace page. Styles swore his third album was going to have a classic, grimy '90s feel, and a bleating and honking Pete Rock beat doesn't disappoint, especially one that takes the bleatingest and honkingest parts of Isaac Hayes's "Ike's Mood" (a song that, in its mellower moments, has driven '90s classics like Intelligent Hoodlum's "Grand Groove," LL Cool J's "Six Minutes of Pleasure," and even the Lox's "Bitches From Eastwick").
Birdman ft. Lil Wayne
From Five Star Stunna
Backed by deep organs and a little soul-searching"I'm so tired of being on this grind/But they say I ain't grindin' if I ain't tired"Birdman and Lil Wayne wait until track 18 to hit their David Banner moment. Wayne donates a twisting, never-ending labyrinth of a chorus that tumbles and unfolds, starts where it shouldn't, repeats where it shouldn't, hits odd angles, accents unexpected syllables, dwells on the tense notes, and never ends where you think it ought to. Like Banner, Birdman works both sides beautifully: starting bleak and sensitive ("Dear Lord, help me get up out this water/Can't go under, got my son and my daughter"), and ending sinful and celebratory ("Empty the drum/Have their whole family crying/Bitch we're rich and we won").
Wyclef Jean ft. Norah Jones
"Any Other Day"
From Carnival Vol. II: Memoirs of an Immigrant
Originally released three years ago as a Red Cross benefit single, now it's just one more great surprise than a Roman-numeral-tagged album with a song called "Hollywood Meets Bollywood" deserves to have. Wyclef clearly wishes people understood City High in '99; Norah does what Nellie McKay and Regina Spektor think they do: steal it off the Internet now, donate money to the Red Cross after.