Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, Jay-Z, Fat Joe, Snoop Dogg, Sean Paul, Busta Rhymes, Ja Rule, Nas Escobar, Erick Sermon, Talib Kweli, The Roots, and Common

Beat Box

Phases and Stages

As rappers experiment with singing and rock while Snoop Dogg eschews the sticky icky, hip-hop, from west to east, is definitely Under Construction. It's a peculiar predicament perfect for foremost female MC and all-around diva Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, who with a lighter look, playful production, and memory of how fun hip-hop used to be, rebuilds a classically infused Supa Dupa Fly foundation on Under Construction (Elektra). As Miss Piggy erects ears with solid construction, the Roc-a-Fella, Jay-Z, merely flaunts a faulty The Blueprint2: The Gift and the Curse (Def Jam), which paints a painful picture of past platinum, uncreative remixes, "Rap Pack" references, and straw-store bought "A Ballad for the Fallen Soldier." Additions aimed at the same loyal demographic, East Coast "gangstas," faux-Don Fat Joe continues campaigning as a fictional mob boss full of fugazi street narratives. Still counting on dapper duets, his Loyalty (Atlantic) alone definitely doesn't pay the bills, and Fat Joe pays the cost of being the boss. Giving up blizunts for funk, rehabbed rapper Snoop Dogg does just that on Paid the Cost to Be the Boss (Priority), the formerly wacky tobaccian smothering his smooth style with painfully long-winded sobriety. It ends up sounding like Dutty Rock (Atlantic), the aptly titled sophomore joint from the Shaggy-styled "Jamaican" Sean Paul. In the style of mainstream Rasta mentor Beenie Man, the album and the artist, concentrates on chronic club bangers and getting the ladies to "Make It Clap," with the help of celebrity MC Busta Rhymes. Following in the footsteps of Ice Cube, J.Lo, and Eminem, Bust's It Ain't Safe No More (J) brings him back to his original role as rapper, tame, mush-mouthed melodrama replacing "Woo Hahs" with Hollywood theatrics. The Last -- and least -- Temptation (Def Jam) from these crossover career cronies is Ja Rule's attempt to "Mesmerize" the masses, with a formulaic installment that confuses grunts and hums for R&B, lyricism, and content. The true deliverance comes from God's Son (Sony), Nas Escobar, who with a new Murda Inc. contract, resurrects himself as a strong street poet preaching "payback" against those angst stone throwers. That's enough, it's time to React (J), not with the miserable "Music" of Erick Sermon, but with a dose of Quality (MCA) from BK MC, Talib Kweli. Letting us know what's really on his mind, the solo Black Star adds insightful "plain talk" regarding politics, his life, loves, and abilities. Still, without correct context, his words are left "Waitin' for the DJ," Hi-Tek. That's a problem The Roots will never have, 'cause as a six-piece hip-hop collective, they don't need a DJ, DAT, or drum machine. Paired with a hyper "fuck money for real, get freedom" motto, the otherwise street jazzy Phil-harmonics add expanded instrumentation, and return with Phrenology (MCA), a Rick Rubin-esque musical montage of genuine aggressive experimentation that can pierce any numb skull. Meanwhile, Common, buoyed by Roots drummer ?uestlove's production, plys a pitch for the greatest show on earth, the eclectic Electric Circus (MCA). Trying to pack Pink Floyd, "Soul Power," and more than 15 guest appearances all under one tent, this elaborate orchestra sounds held together by a thin "Electric Wire," 2000's Like Water for Chocolate still the sweeter selection.

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Under Construction, Blueprint 2:The Gift and the Curse, Loyalty, Pay the Cost to be the Boss, Dutty Rock, It Ain't Safe No More, The Last Temptation, God's Son, React, Quality, Phrenology, Electric Circus

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