"Red Gone Wild"
Redman was teetering on the brink of irrelevance.
His intoxicating growl and irreverent wordplay made him one of the most promising rappers of the '90s. After his 1996 apex, "Muddy Waters," each following album seemed to get worse. The low point came with a puzzling appearance on the sleazy Christina Aguilera track "Dirrty" in 2002.
Then seemingly out of nowhere, he releases this masterpiece -- a sprawling, freewheeling, 70-minute album that seems to answer Nas' sorrowful question, "Is hip-hop dead?" with a joyful "No!"
This latest LP is manna for rap purists. He references an obscure Gravediggaz song, parodies classic skits and dusts off legends like DJ Kool and Pete Rock. Redman's lyrical mise-en-scene is refreshingly down-market compared with the played-out velvet ropes and poppin' bottles of contemporary rap. "Talk greasy like Popeye's breasts and the thighs," he slurs on the veteran posse cut "Walk in Gutta," featuring Biz Markie, Erick Sermon and Keith Murray.
But for all the album's quirky nostalgia, Redman visualizes hip-hop expansive potential too.
"Put It Down," the lead single, could churn mosh pits with a Timbaland beat that chugs along with massive horsepower.
Redman introduces a crew of newcomers who go by Gilla House. One of his proteges, Ready Roc, appears on "Blow Treez."
A Bob Marley sample grooves with a screwed, Southern-sounding hook to create a soul shakedown party.
Everyone in the black music diaspora is invited.
"Let It Go"
You can tell a lot about McGraw's strengths and weaknesses in the first track on his ninth studio album, the single "Last Dollar (Fly Away)," written by Big & Rich's Big Kenny Alphin. McGraw recognizes a catchy tune when he hears one, and this one not only has an instantly hummable chorus but also telegraphs his ambitions as an artist with a nod to Kris Kristofferson in Alphin's lyric: "Since I ain't got nothin' / I ain't got nothin' to lose."
That song, like many others here, is content to quote, rather than create, greatness. "Last Dollar" also plays with some atypical (for country) production work -- albeit little that wasn't invented 40 years ago. And it ends with the ought-to-be-banned children's chorus to bring the song home. At least he didn't include the family dog.
Kristofferson pops up again in Anthony Smith and Reed Nielsen's "Kristofferson," which borrows most of the melody from the honoree's "Help Me Make It Through the Night" in a country song about the effect of a good country song. The point may be legit, but why bother with an echo of an original when the original's still available?
The high points come in Lee Thomas Miller and Chris Stapleton's "Whiskey and You," a skillful observation on the difference between feeling versus masking the pain of loss. Likewise, Lori McKenna and Darrell Scott's "I'm Workin' " transcends the typical scene-setting country song with its concrete depiction of a workingman's mind-set.
"Suspicions" takes McGraw beyond the classic-rock references that play a key role in his sound -- not so much in era but in style, veering into bedroom R&B with a bottom-heavy groove and bluesy twin guitar work that come off like a meeting of the Eagles and Barry White. It's one of many moments which show that, even this far into his career, McGraw can't blunt the impression that he's a country singer who wishes he were a '70s rocker.
-- Randy Lewis
"Music Is My Savior"
This album's watered-down New York version of Houston rap brings to mind that old salsa commercial when the cowboys exclaim in disgust, "Made in New York City?" when they read the label.
MIMS, a 26-year-old rapper from NYC's Washington Heights, has a mawkish soul with a near toxic lack of vision. But he suddenly matters because "This Is Why I'm Hot" is an undeniable smash, spawning an obnoxious taunt that's already wormed its way into hip-hop's vernacular.
It succeeds because of a simple pairing: a spooky melody that sounds like it was ripped from a scary movie and an unctuous, truck-thumping bounce -- the sort of track Houston rappers Slim Thug or Mike Jones could ably exploit. The infectious dub version featuring Baby Cham and Junior Reid and a likable dance workout called "Like This" don't quite redeem the album's flaws.
"Without You" epitomizes the album's worst attributes: breathy, outdated R&B hooks, empty lyrics about hotels, diamonds, planes and shopping bags, perky drum patterns and a sappy piano riff with a cloying ProTools sheen.
MIMS' formula for success is simple: imitate Jay-Z's staccato flow and materialistic subject matter over bouncy Southern style beats. But peel away the accessibility of his fluffy debut and there's nothing but major-label album fodder.
Albums are reviewed on a scale of four stars (excellent), three stars (good), two stars (fair) and one star (poor). Albums reviewed are in stores today.