*** Mack 10, "Bang or Ball," Cash Money/Universal. Best known for being an Ice Cube sidekick, this talented Inglewood rapper deserves his own identity. With his fifth album, Mack 10 joins Cash Money Records and delivers another solid, street-centered effort. The pulsating, Dr. Dre-produced "Hate in Yo Eyes" is a potent anti-jealousy anthem, while Cash Money's Mannie Fresh handles nearly all of the other beats, creating an intense, bouncy backdrop for Mack's rugged, muscular rhymes. S.B.
**1/2 De La Soul, "AOI: Bionix," Tommy Boy. The second of the legendary Long Island rap group's three-part "AOI" album series features the hip-hop pioneers skillfully offering grown-up commentary. They pay homage to full-figured women on "Baby Phat" and dramatize the downfalls of drug use in a battle of wits with perennial pot champion B-Real on "Peer Pressure." Although not as noteworthy as their earlier work, "Bionix" still exhibits musical agility, crafty rhymes and smooth production.S.B.
**those Hey Mercedes, "Everynight Fire Works," Vagrant. Over six years and four albums, indie rockers Braid displayed potent firepower, if scattershot aim. The cannons are no longer loose. Three of Braid's principals, Bob Nanna, Todd Bell and Damon Atkinson, joined on their new project by Mark Dawursk, tighten the riffage without weakening their volleys. Stuttery rhythms and angular melodies coalesce in frenetic bursts, occasionally yielding gems such as the punk anthem "Our Weekend Starts on Wednesday." Hey Mercedes joins labelmates Saves the Day for three Southland dates this week beginning Tuesday at Anaheim's Chain Reaction.
** Warren G, "Return of the Regulator," Universal. This accomplished Long Beach rapper-producer helped put his city on the hip-hop map in the 1990s, but on his fourth album, Dr. Dre's half-brother sounds stagnant. His delivery is extremely awkward, and his breezy, gangster-influenced beats have lost much of their distinctiveness. Guests WC and Butch Cassidy inject some character, but this return lacks panache.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.