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Robert Ford

The mini-mogul chose rap, a clothing line, and movie stardom over school but still stresses the importance of academics on the preachy ”Wanna Grow Up.” He adds a hip-hop spin to the kiddie ditty ”Clap Your Hands” (you know, ”If you’re happy and you know it…”), but an overabundance of samples and fluff, not to mention unskilled flow, proves Romeo is still lil’ league.

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Tupac Shakur

Better Dayz, a two-CD set, is 2Pac’s sixth posthumous release, and the inventory’s clearly getting sparse. New vocals from Nas, Tyrese, and Mya, plus fresh production by Johnny J, breathe life into a few of these leftovers, and ”Thugz Mansion,” about life in heaven, is eerily prescient. But combining the best material from both CDs would’ve guaranteed better ”Dayz.”

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Few emcees can maintain underground credibility and industry respect, and still debut at No. 4 with their seventh album. Scarface, who’s president of Def Jam South, has woven together seamless stories, steeped in dark imagery, of life on the street. Nas’ surgically precise delivery provides plenty of replay material on ”In Between Us.” For hip-hop without the bling, degradation, and commercialism, see Scarface for your fix.

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