Author

Havelock Nelson

Over seven winning tracks (gentle romps, stompers, and slow jams) Alexander O’Neal’s strong, creamy tenor encounters synthesizers and hip-hop production, linking the sexual with the spiritual, and giving powerful R&B modernist credibility as well as cross-generational appeal. It’s really too bad about the last three tracks on Love Makes No Sense — they’re limp, retro-conservative crap that sounds like a lost soul man’s stab at a comeback. B-

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When dancehall’s tendrils extended into mainstream culture, it became inevitable that a white star would eventually emerge. Meet Snow, a 22-year-old Canadian who attempts a shower of reggae rants, hip-hop rhymes, and sensitive crooning on his debut, 12 Inches of Snow. But it doesn’t all stick. Ragamuffin toasts, like the slippery and tuneful hit ”Informer,” score musical points, but Snow’s beige-boy raps and color-me-off-key singing fall flat. B-

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To Arrested Development, rap music isn’t the answer to America’s ”social problem,” as Malcolm X once put it, but a tool to help fight for black equality. In this densely constructed, somewhat clumsy mid-tempo track, rapper Speech asserts, ”There’s gotta be action if you want satisfaction.” The crew’s delivery on Revolution is too matter-of-fact, but when the singing stops, the swinging begins. B

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With its gently shifting moods and curvy melodies, the music on Brian McKnight is black pop suitable for framing. McKnight’s glowing tenor slides along song lines with heartfelt abandon, dominating gentle poems of love with a maturity that belies his 22 years. Even an anxious new-jack jam like ”Yours” is nuanced with perky horns and honey harmonies, pounding home lustfulness but also warmer sentiments.

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Mary J. Blige is the first diva to deliver frisky, fly-girl funk. Like male performers Guy and Jodeci, she bends her gospel-bred pipes around streetwise collages consisting of hard drumbeats, rugged rap samples, and hazy synthesizer lines. Blige’s powerful voice, recalling Caron Wheeler, Anita Baker, and Chaka Khan, at different times, conquers everything she tackles — from ”Sweet Thing,” a jazzy remake of the ’70s Rufus classic, to ballads both hard-line and soft.

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When MCs Skoob and Krazy Drayz entered a rap battle last year at Virginia State University, they lost the $100 grand prize but won the admiration of guest judges Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith, better known as gold-selling rappers EPMD. These self-styled hip-hop businessmen helped Skoob and Drayz land a recording contract as DAS EFX. On their debut album, Dead Serious, they display a fondness for verbal puzzles and hardcore roughness.

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