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RUN DMC, Crown Royal, Arista
Run DMC's Crown Royal has arrived at last. Does anyone still care? DMC apparently doesn't, because he didn't show up for this album. Run and Jam Master Jay try to pick up the slack by recruiting every possible rap-rock crossover act with a hit record in the past two years to make a guest appearance. Fred Durst contributes to arguably the most annoying Run DMC song ever recorded -- "Them Girls." Since they obviously couldn't find enough material to fill three minutes, they decide to recite the hook longer and longer each time around. Third Eye Blind's Stephan Jenkins contributes the hook from the long-forgotten first single, "Rock Show." Sugar Ray is featured on "Here We Go 2001." And "Take the Money and Run" samples the Steve Miller Band song of the same name, with Everlast providing the hook. Kid Rock's appearance on "The School of Old" is the only mainstream contribution that doesn't feel completely out of place. In fact, Kid Rock seems to have an understanding of DMC's role in the group and fills in admirably for The King of Rock, trading verses with Run like DMC did back in the day. And despite an all-star lineup of MCs that made the cut, the hip-hop portion of the album isn't all that much better, mostly due to the fact that DMC isn't on these tracks, either. Exactly how can this be called a Run DMC album without him? "Queens Day" is run-of-the-mill Nas and Prodigy, while Jermaine Dupri drops a typical verse on the prophetic, but listenable, "It's Over." The title track, which samples DMC quoting the "Our Father," is the best use of DMC short of having him in the studio, but this track has been out for at least two years. No album would be complete without jumping on the Latin bandwagon, which of course Run DMC does with Fat Joe on "Ay Papi." The best track on the album is one you might never hear if you try to listen to this album from start to finish -- because it's the last track. Method Man's tight performance on "Simmons Incorporated" seems to have influenced Run to bring a crew of newcomers to back him up while DMC is sampled once again. Crown Royal is almost reminiscent of Notorious B.I.G.'s Born Again with its many unlikely and forced collaborations. Of course, Puffy had no choice on the latter, because unfortunately Biggie was dead. But let's face it -- Run DMC as we knew it is, too.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- J Rough

BIZZY BONE, The Gift, AMC American Music
The sophomore jinx is usually something reserved for artists that just come out of nowhere with a smash hit. But sometimes even well-established artists run the risk of getting hit with the "bad-second-album blues." Bizzy Bone runs this risk with his most recent release, but comes out somewhat unscathed. After delivering a lackluster performance in Heaven'z Movie, Bizzy attempts to show a little more polish with his latest offering, The Gift. This album was good, but it could have been great. It was missing one major element: consistency. From the first track, it was obvious that this was gonna be a rough ride. The production on "Schizophrenic" was just that, a confusing mix of opera music and electric sounds. But at least Bizzy had some sense of identity. Staying true to his Bone Thug roots, he mixed a little of his lightning flow with a dash of harmonic wordplay. He even took a little time out of the song to throw a couple of lyrical jabs at Twista and the Speedknotz (as if that feud was still valid). Then, after killing the musical gems "Don't Be Dumb" and "Whole Wide World" with a pathetic delivery, Bizzy gets back in sync with "Never Grow." Armed with a thick bass guitar, he lets his incredible vocals & thuggish-ruggish delivery carry this song. Then, after another set of slip-ups on "Murderah" and "Before I Go" (it's like all his mistakes come in pairs), he has a slight miscue on "Be Careful." The production is solid, and his delivery is a throwback to the E. 1999 days courtesy of his machine-gun flow, but he sounds so off-key that he almost kills the beat. Then after blessing us with "Fried Day" and cursing us with a lame Eminem impersonation on "Voices in the Head" (go figure), he finally gets some fluidity on the album. On "Still Thuggish Ruggish," the production is awesome, his delivery is clean, and his singing actually matches the feel of the song. But after speaking on his situation with Bone on "Don't Doubt Me" ("S---, it ain't no mystery/ n----- is pissed off, they say I ain't showin up to shows/ but the people don't know/ I ain't makin' no money, so what am I workin for?/ Baby, what are we searchin for?/ Restitution/ Little foster kids give me contributions/ So you can wring out the towel/ and watch who's payin me now"), it looks like Bizzy's about to slip back into mediocrity on "Time Passing Us By." But looks can be deceiving, and Bizzy proves this while letting us know how hard life can be in the chorus: "As time keeps passing us by/ in my community, watching the children die/ b---- made police/ and they brutality/ Prozac and Ritalin, that ain't what we need/ And you're wonderin' why the kids keep smokin weed." This song is a serious one, and Bizzy gives us a lot of answers to that statement. Definitely a song that needs to be heard. Then, after his current single, "Father," he leaves us with "Jesus," a beautifully produced song that asks the simple question, "Don't Jesus make you feel good?" Not only is this a good song to put on after a long day, but it's also a fitting song to end this album, finally bringing a sense of peace to a somewhat rough ride. Overall, The Gift is a pretty well- balanced disk. But as with many presents, a little bit more thought should have been put into it.
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-- Finis Dailey

EVE, Scorpion, Ruff Ryders
Trick Daddy and Trina. Jigga and Amil. Lil' Kim and the great Notorious B.I.G. Most likely when you think of a female rapper it's difficult, sometimes nearly impossible for female rappers to separate their identity from their male mentors. Eve, from the get go, gnarled this overshadowing to shreds. There was no question on her first song "What Y'all N----- Want," from the first Ruff Ryders compilation, that she wrote her own rhymes. No rumors that she got her deal working on her back. And, just when y'all labeled her as another thugette, she came up with "Gotta Man" and "Love is Blind." The E-V-E is back with more. Eve has the knack to balance the cockiness required of male rappers with the sexiness needed as a female MC. Her eloquent flow laced with feminine fire supports her claim that "I do what they can't do... I just do me." Scorpion's first sting, "Who's That Girl," solidifies her place in music. Her lyrical dexterity surpasses that of most men. Dr. Dre and Eve are a match made in heaven. Dre's laid-back bass and electronic guitar riffs mesh perfectly with Eve's gruff yet obviously girly vocal tone on "Let Me Blow Ya Mind." Eve flexes her Ruff Ryder side with DMX on "Scream Double R" and with the Lox and Drag-On on "Thug in the Street." Now that Shyne made the dancehall/rap collabos popular again, "No, No, No" with Stephen Marley should go up in smoke like ganja. That being said, stand back! Scorpion surely stings.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Stephanie Taylor

DJ CLUE, The Professional 2, Roc-A-Fella
"Yeah, DJ Clue!" "Whooooooo!" "Ha ha!" and various crew shoutouts are all things you're going to have to put up with through this entire album. I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, Clue straight ticks me off with the constant yelling, but I'll get over it. Let's get to the music. Clue never lets down with bringing the hottest performers of today with some supremely hot beats -- Jay-Z, DMX, Jadakiss, Eminem, Method Man, Redman, Snoop, Kurupt and various other big names show up to help Clue and show love. "Back To Life 2001" with Mary J. Blige and Jadakiss opens up the album on good note. Directly following that is a dope Jay-Z freestyle. Jay rips it like the freestyle he ripped on Reasonable Doubt's "22 Twos." DMX drops his usual troubled thug lyrics on "Who's Next," with Clue yelling every second bar. My beef with this CD is that it's plagued with too many half-hot/half-not tracks with too many cats that should be straight ripping it. "Getting It" with Rah Digga and Busta, "My N----- Dem" with Trick Daddy and Trina, "So Hot" with Foxy Brown and "Chinatown" with Lil' Kim, Junior Mafia and Lil' Cease, are all prime examples of big letdowns. "Cream 2001" with Raekwon and Ghostface is perhaps the best track on the CD. Ghost spits Wu-darts with his abstract style: "It's like two acts/ Max in the trunk, lookin' real dumb/ '88 paper and our noses numb/ Paid over Marvin Gaye's gravy/ Said Ghost, pop merced me at an early age/ Hit Diana back in the days/ And the Supremes they were all on my d---/ Love the way I sung the Charelles/ Mercy, Mercy son/ Made 'em come." "What The Beat" with Eminem, Method Man and Royce The 5'9" has an amazing piano beat provided by Duro and twisted lyricism. It has all the components to be another Eminem hit. With plenty of hotness, but way too many sleepers, Clue's album had to scrape together a few cents to make it a 10.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Sam

XZIBIT, Restless, Loud
Finally, the moment that much of the hip-hop world has been waiting for. After countless guest appearances in which the X-man just straight up tore the mic apart, Xzibit has released his third album, Restless, which was two years in the making. From the first track to the last track, Xzibit lets the people know that "ain't nobody f-----' with him.' With Dr. Dre backing up X to tha Z, I thought this album was a surefire classic, but after quite a few listens it still falls into the mediocre category. Don't get it twisted though, tracks like "Front 2 Back," "X," and "Double Time" more than prove that X has got what he needs to make West Coast history. But tracks like "Don't Approach Me" featuring Eminem (which sounds like it was left off The Marshall Mathers LP), "F-----' You Right" and "Sorry I'm Away So Much" come off corny and keep Xzibit away from the throne he rightfully deserves. "U Know" has a thundering bassline (provided by Dr. Dre) and a guest appearance by the good doctor himself, guaranteeing a West-side anthem that will thump for the ages. Although this is a good breaking-through-the-underground album, it doesn't nearly compare to Dre's or Snoop's ground-shaking West Coast bangers. "Loud And Clear," the posse cut with a surprise verse from MIA King Tee, easily bangs the loudest, and the final verse by Xzibit qualifies him for best verse of the new century: "Built to run forever, X the infinite/ First line of defense to smash through the immigrants/ Can't straddle the fence, it's all or nothin/ Close the curtain, shut down your whole production/ Don't be scared, be prepared, n----- do be bustin'/ without thinkin', I mastered the art of hard drinkin'/ Yo, you wanna stop the X, try your best/ I'm still f-----' with your pockets like the IRS." Damn, X, why couldn't your whole album have been like that? Oh well, there's always next time.
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Sam

FIELD MOB, Channel 613: Ashy To Classy, MCA
Newcomers Field Mob prove to all the non-believers that there's more to the South than "bling-blinging" and gun poppin'. With more punchlines than Sauce Money and a faster flow than Bone, Boondox Blax and Kalage prove why they should be put on the top of the Rookies Of The Year lists. Songs like "Can't Stop Us," "Dead In Your Chevy" (and no not killed 'dead,' just the Chevy won't start) and "Da Durty" more than prove that these whodis got supreme lyrical skill. But the golden track has to be "Project Dreamz" where Kalage spits perhaps the nicest bars on the LP: "What ya know 'bout havin no dough, no coat for the winter/ Remember, we poor folk/ Most cut yolk and smoke coke, cut throats in ya dope." The one thing holding these boys back, though, is no range in production. The entire album was produced by newcomer Ole-E, and though he tries to give different sounds to the boys he just comes off sounding like a played-out Mannie Fresh. The album is summed up best with the tag-team lyricism on the soon-to-be-classic "Project Dreamz": "Member talkin over the loud sounds when the wind blow/ 'Cause the trash bag's replacin' yo' car window/ Man, we been poor!"
Click here to find out how to buy this album.

-- Sam

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