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‘Z100 Jingle Ball’

With Ne-Yo, Justin Bieber, fun., Ed Sheeran, One Direction, Jason Mraz, The Wanted, Taylor Swift, Olly Murs, B.o.B., and Cher Lloyd.

Fri., Dec. 7, 7:30 p.m., 2012

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Heavy Atmosphere

B.o.B. sounds a surprisingly aggressive note in “Strange Clouds,” the lead single from his upcoming sophomore disc: Given the huge success he and Bruno Mars had last year praising beautiful girls all over the world, the oft-bespectacled Atlanta MC isn’t necessarily one you’d expect to brag about the number of rappers who wake up on his dick. But brag about it he does, over a dubstep-inflected beat by Dr. Luke that feels similarly pugnacious coming from that tween-friendly dance-pop king. Expect a preview of the new album (due out next year) at this sold-out club show, which B.o.B. is billing as “Strange Clouds: One Night Only.”

Tue., Nov. 29, 8 p.m., 2011

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WONDERLAND BLUES

Tonight, Roseland welcomes two artists who manage to be widely underappreciated, despite residing squarely in the pop spotlight. Bruno Mars, babyfaced doo-wop reinterpreter, gets the fangirls for his sugary ballad “Just the Way You Are,” but he goes largely unheralded for co-writing B.O.B.’s “Nothin’ on You” and Cee-lo’s mammoth “Fuck You.” And Janelle Monae should just be the biggest r&b/pop star in the world, and is certainly primed for glory with her dapper suit-and-pompadour aesthetic and gloriously catchy neo-soul anthems “Tightrope” and “Cold War,” off last year’s The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III). Make them happen more, America. Freakin’ try harder.

Wed., May 4, 7:30 p.m., 2011

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Cee Lo Green and the Year of “Fuck You”

The Tea Party. Lebron James. Pamplamoose. July’s near-record-setting heat. Bros Icing Bros. Don Draper’s marriage proposal. Vuvuzelas. “Pants on the Ground.” Little Fockers. December’s “snowpocalypse.” The “Forget You” radio edit and Gwyneth Paltrow vehicle. Jonathan Franzen fatigue. Double-digit unemployment. Derek Jeter’s 2010 Gold Glove. The word “snowpocalypse.” Four Loko hysteria. Taylor Swift singing live during award shows. Olympics tape delay. The ubiquity of that bugged-out JetBlue flight attendant. Twitter fatigue. “Rape gaze.” The Perez Hilton headline “Ke$ha Nude Pic Leaked!!!! Covered In Semen!” Michael Jackson’s we’re-pretty-sure-that’s-him-singing posthumous full-length debacle, the first of many. The “Ground Zero Mosque.” The Lost finale. Especially the Lost finale. Yes, 2010 was the perfect year for a song called “Fuck You,” and Cee Lo Green the perfect man to deliver it: with a jovial wink, with a commanding howl, with an all-too-appropriate wailing-baby bridge that goes, Whyyyyyyy? Whyyyyyyy? Whyyyyyyy?

Because we deserved it: both the disease and its jubilant pop-soul antidote. With our day-to-day, hour-to-hour agenda now set entirely via trending topic (often provided by either Sarah Palin or Fabolous), with ephemeral Internet debacles (she quit her job via dry-erase board! She’s not a witch! She’ll Tweet your phone number!) our only cause and currency, it fell to Mr. Green to rise above by going . . . viraler. With all due respect to songwriter/pompadour enthusiast Bruno Mars (whose buoyant hook on B.o.B.’s “Nothin’ on You” was nearly equally fantastic) . . . (look, let’s not argue about this right now), it’s the singer’s show, easily the single most dazzling vocal performance of 2010, for that Tony-winning I really love you aahahhhhhhhahah climax alone. Goodie Mob fans feared “Fuck You” would lead to cartoonish, career-diminishing typecasting—smart Pitchfork scribe Nate Patrin compared it to people who only remember Isaac Hayes as Chef from South Park—but this is comedy that only deepens and heightens Green’s long-evident mastery of drama, his Leslie-Nielsen-in-Airplane moment, every F-bomb landing with the hilarious gravitas of “Don’t call me Shirley.”

Cee Lo has a habit of inadvertently reflecting the national mood; recall that this is his second Pazz & Jop–topping hit to successfully convince us that darkness is actually light. Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” nearly tripled the output of its closest competition (T.I., heh) in 2006 with the most infectious insanity plea imaginable, inspiring a raft of covers and the general sense that the whole world could relate. (Note that Time‘s Person of the Year that year was . . . “You.”) Four years later, we’ve got Taylor Momsen, William Shatner, and, yes, Ms. Paltrow all taking their shots at the brassy lament of a proud man dumped because he’s flat broke, a line like, “I guess the change in my pocket wasn’t enough” resonating deeply and unpleasantly here in the age of the double-dip recession.

It’s almost too easy to note the class-warfare angle, but many admirers did anyway; that it’s easy doesn’t make it wrong. (50 Cent, ever the unrepentant capitalist, immediately released his own version, from the loaded new boyfriend’s perspective—if it makes Green feel any better, that relationship probably ended badly after 50 started soliciting random women on Twitter to send him naked pictures.) And if you find “Fuck You” too eerily spot-on, spare a moment for your runner-up, seizing the zeitgeist with equal but slightly off-kilter aplomb. Janelle Monáe is this year’s genuine surprise: Sprawling, bewildering monolith The ArchAndroid hit a shocking #4 on the albums chart, but its beating heart is the stupendous robo-funk anthem “Tightrope,” #2 with a bullet and itself a monument to fluctuations market-based and otherwise—”You can’t get too high! You can’t get too low!”—as Big Boi chipped in the only logical rhyme for “NASDAQ”: “ass crack.”

“Tightrope” pushes the same retro-bonanza buttons as the one song that vanquished it, but both transcend mere pastiche; Cee Lo, though, had a far deadlier adversary to overcome. Ubiquity. Via our various online echo chambers, anything remotely popular now gets beaten to death: Today’s unimpeachable fount of hilarity is tomorrow’s I’MA LET YOU FINISH BUT _______ HAD THE GREATEST ______ OF ALL TIME! The backlash comes for us all: Kanye’s simply had the good sense to arrive after the polls had closed. But not this time. Not this song. “Fuck You” is somehow repetition-proof, impossible to get sick of no matter how many times it’s foisted on you, via Glee, via CSI, via YouTube, via prude-mortifying Grammy nod, via hilariously stiff Times article. (“The singer is peeved at a girl who has left him and concludes that ‘If I’d been richer, I’d still be with ya’ and though ‘there’s pain in my chest, I still wish you the best . . .’ followed by a certain crude phrase, and an ‘ooh, ooh, ooh.’ “) We are running out of renewable resources: fossil fuels, patience, goodwill. “Fuck You,” paradoxically, can indefinitely restore two out of three. Drive that Ferrari while you still can, motherfucker.

rharvilla@villagevoice.com

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On Drake, Nicki Minaj, B.o.B., and the Art of the Debut-As-Pop-Crossover

For the first 325 days of 2010, Nicki Minaj’s baarsss were like succulent, hashtag-rap-imbued appetizers. The eyelash-batting Harajuku Barbie stomped on half the fellas she accompanied on supporting-actress collabos that bumped everywhere from hipster lounges to Escalade dashboards. A “rah-rah!” here. A “muthafuckin’ MONSTER!” there. A “wait, wait, fixate” afar. Surely, this chick could rap her padded ass off. Except when her own wildly anticipated full-length finally came, Pop Star Nicki kidnapped Rap Star Nicki, and almost everyone walked away wishing Pink Friday, with its candy-coated coos and child-safety-lock lyrics, tasted more like her guest-starring hors d’oeuvres. Sugar and spice and everything nice: That’s what rap debuts are made of?

Coincidentally, neither Drake nor B.o.B. “rapped enough” on their respective breakout albums—Thank Me Later and B.o.B. Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray. Instead, we got cheerleader pop, rock ballads, a track called “Find Your Love,” and a Vampire Weekend cover to complement that Natasha Freaking Bedingfield hook on Nicki’s record, making 2010 the year hip-hop’s most anticipated newbies turned into off-key alt-rock r&b MCs.

Seldom do rappers so early in their careers feel the need to skew pop-ward and blatantly court indie rockers. But in 2010, it happened thrice: transparently, logically, and (the scary part) successfully. Pink Friday went gold and outsold Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in both records’ third week of release. Dark horse B.o.B., once better known as André 3000 Jr., delivered two colossal pop hits, with hooks by Bruno Mars (“Nothin’ on You”) and Paramore’s Hayley Williams (“Airplanes”). And Thank Me Later sold nearly 450,000 copies its first week out, and, like the pop-chart-topping Bobby Ray, scored multiple Grammy nominations, including Best Rap Album. Critics mostly preferred Big Boi, and everyone preferred Kanye, but with commercial success like that, it hardly matters.

For B.o.B., his cluttered musical palate proved both a blessing (the cautionary horn-filled rock-reggae hybrid “Fame”) and a curse (stay away, Rivers Cuomo). Fans of the Georgian’s early mixtapes—particularly 2008’s left-field but still rap-heavy Hi! My Name Is Bob—got a watered-down version of that on Bobby Ray. Admirers of his pre-fame, DMX-worshipping days—full of songs like “Haterz Everywhere” and lines like, “I just want to grip your body/I like it when it’s real, real sloppy”—now encountered a certain sameness; the preacher’s son who plucked a guitar and shamelessly spoke of his desire to learn the cello politely retorted that today’s hip-hop fans are more open-minded. Which is true. But even Ja Rule thugged out for a while.

In Pink Friday‘s case, the hardcore spitting is largely confined to the three opening tracks, including the stellar, staccato, Bangladesh-helmed shit-talk anthem “Did It on ‘Em,” where literal-potty mouthing ensues (“If I had a dick, I would pull it out and piss on ’em”), along with all the other good stuff Weezy taught her. From that point on, though, on tracks like “Right Thru Me,” “Fly,” and “Save Me,” Minaj discovers she can sort of (not really!) sing, and suddenly the artist Kanye West suggested could be the second-greatest rapper ever in the history of time—second to Eminem—is hardly even rapping. We shouldn’t be too shocked, though, that a woman who in her MTV mini-doc expressed a “paralyzing fear” of failing, one tasked with reviving the Female Hip-Hop Nation, wants to grab the biggest audience possible. When your buzz hits its peak, it seems, there’s nowhere to go but pop. As the Voice‘s own Rich Juzwiak wrote, “It’s the r&b crossover as the first album of her career. It makes me long for the days when selling out was something you resisted, not something you jumped to do.”

Clearly, crossing over is the new black. Rap doesn’t typically embrace cupid-struck rappers, but with Kanye and Diddy and, especially, Drake testing the limits, let’s call it progress: giant leaps for rap-kind. Drizzy’s mixtape-as-unofficial-first-album So Far Gone, you’ll recall, was filled with glistening Auto-Tuned bars and the completely non-rap sounds of Lykke Li and Peter Bjorn and John. We knew what we signed up for. He wore his softie side like a badge; we may not have loved Thank Me Later as unconditionally as Get Rich or Die Tryin’, but we mostly accepted Drake’s hodgepodge of soul-searching and half-white-people problems because he wasn’t embarrassed about it. And because a lot of it sounded so good. So Drake, by managing to balance the creativity of hip-hop and the lure of pop, is the least guilty of switching tunes.

And as it happens, B.o.B. is right: Hip-hop is more accepting of skinny-jeaned rappers with a Coldplay fetish nowadays. And rappers are less concerned with the backlash they risk by preening in the pages of GQ and more comfortable with being themselves, even as they’re still discovering who exactly that is. It’s a bleak forecast—generic pop-rap overshadowing talent—but circumstances are such that the “official,” rap-murking album is the commercial product, while mixtapes and other free fodder—featuring the creative music you actually asked for—are closer to the artist’s true identity. Want their old shit? Download their old mixtapes. Or hope that the next wave of mainstream rap debuts—from, say, J. Cole, Wiz Khalifa, or 35-year-old virgin Jay Electronica—feature more conventional rapping. But who’s to say they won’t reach for the crossover hit themselves? Because everyone wants to be the next Drake.

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Diddy Goes Back to the Basement

Diddy doesn’t need to make an album like Last Train to Paris. OK: Diddy doesn’t need to do anything, but in particular, no one was looking to the guy for an electro-influenced, house-tinged, avant-r&b concept album about heartbreak. “I wasn’t trying to be vulnerable for the sake of shock, or for the sake of people admiring my vulnerability,” he notes over the phone, one week before the album’s release. Instead, his goal was “to just tell the truth.” On the intro track, backed by progressive house bleeps and bloops, Diddy introduces the record’s harsh conceit: “Love is a motherfucker.”

Grief and sorrow, of course, aren’t new territory for the maudlin, forever ballin’ producer/rapper/mogul. The Notorious B.I.G.’s tragic death hangs over his every musical move, and he’s fine with that. He gave his 1997 solo debut the rather existential title No Way Out, while “Last Night,” the biggest hit from 2006’s Press Play, finds him exclaiming, “The way I feel, I wanna curl up like a child.” Nonetheless, Diddy’s all-the-world-is-a-stage approach to music- and myth-making reaches a fascinating breaking point here: Something like three years in the making, delayed numerous times, soaked in heart-on-sleeve lyrics, and assembled from 60 or so songs, the genesis of Last Train to Paris is full of odd stories involving our hero, ensconced in a darkened studio, barking batty ideas to his production team.

Consider a rap-up.com interview with producer Alex Da Kid, who contributed “Coming Home,” which had the producer of mega-hits like B.o.B.’s “Airplanes” and Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie” chuckling as he recounted Diddy’s oddball sonic demands. The best one: “I want a beat that makes me feel like a white man in a basement in Atlanta.” Which, goofy as it sounds, is simply Diddy’s patented way of providing inspiration. “Most of the producers I worked with, I’ve been friends with,” he explains; the album came together by “hanging out with them, taking them to parties, and showing them movies.”

The influences are broad and unexpected: clubs in Ibiza, ’80s hip-hoppers Schoolly D and T La Rock, dance music coming out of Rome, U.K. r&b trio Loose Ends, and the iconic Abel Ferrara film King of New York. “I would show the scene where they’re having the party in the basement, and tell them, ‘Put me in the basement . . . sonically,’ ” Diddy remembers, his voice slowing down to trigger hypnosis. “ ‘The hollow-ness of the basement. How would that sound coming from upstairs? We’re in Paris, but we’re from New York. What would be the soundtrack to that?’ ”

Once you hear Paris’s mish-mash (Diddy’s word) of sounds, all that producer-genius experimentalism makes some sense. “Yeah Yeah” sends psychedelic guitars through house-music filters. Croaking electronics shoot in all directions on “Strobe Lights.” “Hello (Good Morning)” has an absolutely epic acid-squelch breakdown. “Hate Me Now” and “Angels” are detours into thumping minimalism. Every song is full of swift change-ups and jarring musical detours; Vogue’s André Leon Talley compared the production to “the broken cadences of avant-garde jazz,” and he’s only half-wrong.

Diddy often interrupts these jagged dance tracks to emote. “What am I supposed to do when the club lights come on?” he asks on “Coming Home,” confessing, “It’s easy to be Puff/It’s harder to be Sean.” Even party-rap lines like “Smoke my reefer, gettin’ high” are followed up with “You know, without you I will die.” Elsewhere, he declares his desire to “Smoke weed listenin’ to Sade,” which is both awesomely relatable and a bit sad.

To keep all this reflective playa-emoting in check, Paris is co-headlined by Diddy’s r&b duo, Dirty Money. Ex–Danity Kane member Dawn Richard and songwriter Kalenna Harper play hype-women to the ultimate hype-man, but they also provide a confident female voice, calling out Diddy as “so damned selfish” on “Yeah Yeah” and playing the sexual aggressor on “Your Love.” Moreover, this isn’t exactly the guy’s “mature” record. One of the best songs is called “Ass on the Floor” (featuring swooping Moroder synths and a Major Lazer sample), while on “Shades,” Diddy declares his intention to “make love to you on marmalade.” It’s lots of fun, and though confessional in parts, it’s overall far from the self-serious, petulant complaint-raps of say, Drake or Kanye. Paris looks back to dance music as soulful catharsis and emotionalism, not the cold thump that’s taken over as of late.

“Everybody has their time of having that hot hand and hot sound,” Diddy concludes. “And when radio’s programmed the way it is, it’s kinda hard to go against that. But that was one of the things I wanted to do.” He sounds like a wizened veteran. “Everything on the radio is so catered to the A.D.D. mentality of the ear as well as the heart, you know what I’m saying?”

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TRADING LACES

Billing itself as the world’s largest sneaker show, the Sneaker Pimps USA Tour plans to fill the massive Terminal 5 with the smell of crisp leather and freshly polymerized rubber. Over 1,500 pairs of rare, limited-edition, and artist-crafted sneakers will be on hand, thwarting the tireless efforts of eBay resellers and sitting side by side with skateboarding demos, basketball competitions, kicks-related artwork, and a whole ton of performers. Beyond a still-unannounced artist that tour founder Peter Fahey calls a “major headliner who people are going to be psyched about seeing,” the tour stop in Solesville, U.S.A., includes Big Boi, Clipse, the Cool Kids, Wale, DJ Clark Kent, Team Facelift, Ninjasonik, and more. Big Boi has been prepping his finally dropping solo album for months now with high-energy live shows. Everyone will assuredly be freaking out to his high-bpm classics like “Kryponite” and “B.O.B.,” while trying their damnedest not to scuff their new shoes.

Fri., June 26, 8 p.m., 2009

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Kentucky Dirty

Absorbing wild hair, beans and pork chops, beat-up overalls, and enough weed to sink the Titanic, six-man Bowling Green, Kentucky, hip-hop hayseeds Nappy Roots hope listeners walk away from Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz with some prime conclusions—mainly, that Nappy Roots are dirtass poor. On their major-label debut, they borrow Granny’s ’89 Cutlass Supreme to rhyme about 20-inch rims, and buy “a pack of Dutch Masters and a pint of alcohol” to help them through life without pagers, cell phones, or true-playa access. In “Awnaw,” the organ-spiked explosion of inner-hillbilliness that doubles as the album’s first single, they reminisce about indie days of cutting vocals in a closet while roaches crawled on the kitchen faucets. While Atlanta’s “most ballinous playa,” Jermaine Dupri, rolls up on One-Tweezy, these Western Kentucky University grads eat at IHOP and roll down I-65.

That all supports the group’s essential point: Life as a broke nobody from nowhere ain’t half bad with the proper self-esteem and sense of humor, because there are way more Nappy Roots folk than Dupris in the world. These guys are “nappy” in their ways, and “Jimmy crack corn, no fade, no perm, I’m just ballin’ on a budget, yea-ga!!” is one bizarre slice of lexicon—”Ballin’ on a Budget” ‘s title becomes plain ol’ “B.O.B.” elsewhere (not the only time they evoke OutKast).

Who ever heard of Kentucky hip-hop, anyway? Skinny Deville, Big V., B. Stille, Ron Clutch, R. Prophet, and Scales take their anonymity and run with it, baking a musical mutation that grabs mostly from Goodie Mob’s scorching-earth-singsong Dirty South and Too $hort’s cheap-drums-and-laid-back-charm West Coast. They sing hooks in thick drawls, and speed-rap like No Limit or the Dungeon Family. They employ the instrumentation of Dixie: mandolins, acoustic blues licks, and—in “Ho Down”—a prototypical Al Green-Willie Mitchell guitar jam. (Curiously, Bowling Green is closer to Cincinnati than to Memphis or Atlanta, but whatever.) Other songs, like the sparse “Start It Over,” retread the electro of mid-’80s Whodini. R. Prophet’s over-the-top, yapping reggae delivery hammers home the grooves.

The six also create a new persona—the hillbilly hustla, the guy who scarfs down plates of sweet-potato pie just in time to drive a shipment of dope over the county line. Their anti-bling-bling isn’t preaching; they’re too wasted for that. Put “Set It Out” ‘s rollicking hook “Roll some, drink some, cut some, what?” next to Queens of the Stone Age’s “Feel Good Hit of the Summer,” and you’ll notice the intoxication mind-meld. In their casual embrace of drugs and admission of petty crimes—they don’t commit any now, but do remember snatching purses back in the day—Nappy Roots are not all that removed from their urban counterparts. They’re African American men in their mid-twenties, struggling to make it in life, making poor decisions along the way.

The difference, however, comes from how Nappy Roots reach for their ounce of Jay-Z supremacy. They’re as real as real gets, if you follow their logic, because they’re not trying to pimp anything but their true surroundings. Judging from their photos, they really do wear their gravy on their sleeve, which makes their approach refreshing. Whether that gravy drips into the mainstream remains to be seen—at minimum, Nappy Roots turn New York’s mackcentric posse imagery on its ear.

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Two Worlds Apart

Though it’s nearly eight years old, boasts a Mercury Prize winner in Roni Size, and has infiltrated pop culture via car commercials, drum’n’bass still suffers from a giant insecurity complex. Briefly a golden child in the mid ’90s, when Goldie, LTJ Bukem, and Size were releasing albums to critical acclaim and when club kids couldn’t get enough of its fractured, quicksand beats, drum’n’bass saw its popularity fall by the wayside when it became clear that its crossover potential was limited.

Junglists, as we now know, don’t really like vocals, have no use for an image, don’t care if the hooks are catchy (and prefer them scary, anyway), and stubbornly hold fast to a DIY ethos. Next to Detroit techno heads, few fans take musical purity to such fascist levels. Big-name guests? Sellout. A dancer, especially one whose bad hairdo makes him look like a reject from the punk era? Fuck you. Next thing you know, Madonna’s gonna ask Bukem to produce her next album.

Roni Size knows all these things, and so he operates in two universes—making one record (In the Mode, Reprazent’s follow-up to New Forms) for the masses, and many others (mostly singles on his label Full Cycle) for the junglists. What he doesn’t realize is that there needn’t be two separate strategies. In the Mode is Size’s brash attempt to sway the uninitiated to the world of drum’n’bass via vocals and hip-hop. Discarding New Forms‘ lazy jazz-fueled rhythms for more poppy, dancefloor-friendly beats, Size pulls another trick out of his hat, except everyone could see this one coming.

To lure the dragon to the treasure chest, he enlists massive stars like ex-Rage Against the Machine scream machine Zack de la Rocha, Wu mouthpiece Method Man, and Roots human beatbox Rahzel. And where New Forms was overly long and mostly instrumental, In the Mode is short by drum’n’bass standards (one disc, where seemingly everyone else—Grooverider, 4 Hero, Bukem—insists on doubles) and relies heavily on vocals. Homegrown Bristol soul sister Onallee and swank rapper MC Dynamite find themselves—not the bass—at center stage.

Problem is, the things that made drum’n’bass groundbreaking (or boring, depending) were not vocals, choruses, or shout-outs (please, not another MC shrieking for rewinds), but broken beat structures, time-stretched basslines, and relentless repetition. Drum’n’bass cuts are supposed to be antipop songs, entire tracks consisting of only a chorus, but shrink-wrapped. Using the bassline like a junkie uses a hit of crack, a drum’n’bass producer follows up a melodramatic intro with a “drop” to get you addicted. The trick is to make the hook so compelling you actually want to hear it 500 times in five minutes.

Size mastered this art with his earlier tunes on V Recordings and Full Cycle—classics like “It’s Jazzy” and the blistering collaboration with Die, “Trouble,” demonstrate that the fastest way to a dancefloor’s heart is through a sucker-punched stomach. There are moments on In the Mode when Size remembers what made him famous in the first place. “Snapshot,” which debuted as a Full Cycle 12-inch before appearing here, is as simplistic as it gets: a funky motherfucker that works like a worm, wiggling in circles ad nauseam. And though “Back to You” is almost ruined by busy-as-a-bee bleeps, Onallee’s mantra merges with the monstrous, meaty riff and pushes the track over the top.

But by and large, Size ignores his wife and spends more time with his mistress. If In the Mode‘s special guests were able to accomplish what a single searing bassline could in the same amount of time, I’d give them credit. But it takes de la Rocha nearly seven minutes to finish his Diallo tirade in “Center of the Storm,” and you wish he would just shut up for a second and let the music do the talking. While lyrics of substance are welcome, I’m convinced there’s a great track buried underneath his pontificating, just dying to get out.

Size pretends his pairing of hip-hop with drum’n’bass is something new, but we’ve been here before: Aphrodite’s Puffy-esque forays into sampledelica made him king of the beats for a hot second, and Size himself owns the most successful smooshing of the two. Bahamadia’s slippery crawl through New Forms‘ title track was a shadowboxing delight, and a sharp contrast to Method Man’s shallow, sallow cheerleading in “Ghetto Celebrity,” a basic cut’n’paste slapdashing speedy beats against lagging lyrics. There’s a whole store of hip-step—as Jungle Sky’s TC Izlam calls it—but nobody’s buying. OutKast’s “B.O.B.” might be the closest to the mainstream d’n’b will ever get.

As exciting as it must be for a drum’n’bass producer to collaborate with hip-hop idols, the In the Mode tracks that ring most true are the ones with Onallee and Dynamite. Inserting lyrics and choruses into 170 bpm is risky business, so d’n’b vocals work best when they become part of the percussive fabric—looping, revolving, and evolving into the mix. Rappers either rhyme at half-speed, which makes them sound lazy, or they try to keep up and run out of breath. But Dynamite, jungle’s best MC, knows the rippling rhythms like the back of his hand. The obnoxious first single “Who Told You” notwithstanding, his nuanced vocal tics demonstrate a respect for the music by giving and taking, but never hogging the show.

And Onallee, when she’s not trying out for the R&B Diva of the Year Award, can be understated, seductive, and sultry. On “Lucky Pressure,” Size and Onallee leave hype and histrionics behind; she weaves her lyrics around his warped, warbling bass and spooked-out sound effects. There’s not a gimmick or superstar in sight, and what do you know—it’s an actual, honest-to-goodness song. One that could even be played on the radio.



Roni Size/Reprazent play Hammerstein Ballroom March 17.

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Top 10 Plus

OutKast is all about dichotomies and polyglotness. The melding of rap and rock and funk works so well because the generation loving them has grown up on MTV’s United Colors of Music, where you get Marilyn Manson, then Snoop Dogg, then R.E.M. in a world of patchwork families and rampant biracialism.

Touré

Brooklyn, New York

Acid funk guitars, Spanish trumpets, and soul synths dog-piled on a state-of-the-African-American-Nation thesis almost as weird and every bit as wonderful as Dre’s camouflage tights.

Max Berry

Port Austin, Michigan

For every hip-hop stomp there’s an equally profound humble mumble. For every boast that Big Boi spits, Andre 3000 offers penitence.

Randall Roberts

St. Louis, Missouri

Stankonia is funky like putting on a dirty pair of heavy, coarse jeans after afternoon sex without a shower in some humid hemisphere.

Hua Hsu

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea is The Joy of Sex meets The Art of Loving. It is desire, in a world where guitars still signify.

Bill Friskics-Warren

Nashville, Tennessee

I have the exact same reaction listening to PJ Harvey’s Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea as I did when I would watch TV around age seven and people would start kissing. “Oooooh, gross! Stop! Mushy!”

Lois Maffeo

Olympia, Washington

“Dear Aunt Polly, Thanks for the amazing new sweater. It may take me a season or two to grow into, but it promises to be an incredible wait.”

John Chandler

Portland, Oregon

Among the charges: Too slow. Like watching paint dry. Can’t understand what the tortured Thom Yorke is saying. All true, and for these reasons, Kid A was a telling barometer of the vanishing American attention span. The people who hunkered down with it on headphones and soaked up the pit-of-the-stomach cosmic churn were astounded. Everybody else couldn’t be bothered with the shredding dissonance, the colors-bleeding-together washes. There was no big bang, no easily identified climax. And that was the point.

Tom Moon

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

In a year of cruel reality checks, Kid A was the perfect letdown for white kids looking for an R.E.M. of their own.

Hobey Echlin

Manhattan

While it didn’t make my Top 10, I’d like to take this opportunity to say that Kid A presages dystopian music with a dazed, pained disorientation which challenges an old comfortable idiom. It isn’t a particularly good album, but it presages dystopian music with a dazed, pained disorientation which challenges an old comfortable idiom.

J.R. Taylor

Weehawken, New Jersey

I can’t do anything while listening to The Marshall Mathers LP. I can’t drive my car. I can’t make dinner. I can’t fold my laundry. I can’t even talk on the telephone. It makes me completely unable to function. Am I frightened? Angry? Sad? No, just fascinated. Eminem, I hate you I hate you I hate you I love you. But if I ever met you I probably wouldn’t be able to speak.

Amy Phillips

Manhattan

Eminem smacks you with the lyrical complexity and detailed narratives of Biggie, the hilarious is-he-kidding-or-not button-pushing of Howard Stern, the disaffected angry white boy-ness of Fight Club, and the fearless, renegade, I’ll-say-anything, kill-me-if-you-can energy of Tupac—along with a macabre imagination, an incredible ability to create new rhyme patterns, a frightening proclivity to spit venom in one moment and humor the next, and a neverending slew of jaw-drop punch lines. He’s a monster MC.

Touré

Brooklyn, New York

Once Shelby Lynne headed out of crimped-hair country-music hell, she gained direct access to that raw, wounded part of herself that is all over I Am Shelby Lynne. Some guy in Alabama is crying his eyes out because he let her get away.

Amy Phillips

Manhattan

Nestled between Christopher Cross and Taco on the in-store muzak in a Home Depot came Shelby Lynne’s “Your Lies,” trumpeting through like a Dusty Springfield oasis in the muck. The construction guy buying drywall was singing along by the third verse.

Jerry Dannemiller

Columbus, Ohio

“But the songs don’t go anywhere,” griped a friend about Voodoo. He’s right; they don’t, and that’s the point. Taking its cue from feminine rather than masculine sexual energy—from pleasure’s ebb and flow rather than climax or consummation—it’s all bump and grind, all about getting way down inside a groove and riding it rather than trying to get anywhere. Which isn’t to say that the getting there ain’t good, just that there’s no reason to hurry when the goin’ feels fine.

Bill Friskics-Warren

Nashville, Tennessee

After enduring an infinity of Voodoo‘s murky clit tease, I recalled the insistent advice of D’Angelo’s main man, Marvin Gaye: Come on, come on, come on, come on, come on, stop beating around the bush.

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Keith Harris

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Marvin Gaye and Al Green comparisons aren’t entirely off base, but D’Angelo’s claustrophobic rhythm and blues is as much dystopian dream world as love-unlimited orchestra, the sonic progeny of such headphone funk forebears as There’s a Riot Goin’ On, Maxinquaye, and, most of all, Prince’s weird, sexy “Adore.”

Chris Herrington

Memphis, Tennessee

The link between one and many is U2’s obsession on every level: a band that thinks it’s an organism, from a small country that has preoccupied the world, composed of players who made their idiosyncrasies into musical definitions. By what miracle does anyone care about Edge’s cathedral chords, or Bono’s mendicant wails? At what point does U2’s striving matter only to itself? By still asking these questions, and so remaining within some embarrassingly deep mystery about music itself, U2 gets to sit on its hill delivering sermons that really do fill us up.

Ann Powers

Brooklyn, New York

Spending the ’90s scrubbing themselves with the Brillo pad of irony, U2 successfully removed those embarrassing stains of sincerity and naive passion. Now, its job done, the irony has been ditched too. And so, finally, the band’s cleaned up enough to make a pretty good album. Believe you me, they’ll never do anything as callow as “Sunday Bloody Sunday” or that Martin Luther King song again.

Jane Dark

Brooklyn, New York

And Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out is all emotionally squishy, impressionistic ballads that resonate on third listen as potently as anything they’ve ever howled. You knew they were romantics, but this is their first really Romantic album, divining an almost overwhelming sense of grace and peace from the simplest chord changes.

Joe Gross

Dallas, Texas

Married love reflected coolly in tunes you have to let yourself listen to or you just won’t hear them. Kinda like married love.

George Yatchisin

Santa Barbara, California

Floating like the ghost of Billie Holiday and stingin’ like fly-grrrl poet Ntozake Shange, Jill Scott conjures more wisdom and feelings about the man-woman thing than 100 Terry McMillans. All the while she’s scratching cute little Cupid behind the ears with one hand, her other hand is drifting below the belt-line equator of a satyr.

Rick de Yampert

Daytona Beach, Florida

If Jill Scott doesn’t become a hip-hop household name in the tradition of Erykah Badu, there’s no justice and there should be no peace.

Connie Johnson

Los Angeles, California

All Hands on the Bad One is not only the anti-Chocolate Starfish but the anti-Kid A. It’s a slumber party with Dorothy Parker, Joan Jett, and Gloria Steinem, at which everybody talks politics and nobody gets a makeover.

Amy Phillips

Manhattan

Like PJ, like Jimbaud, Sleater-Kinney are erotic politicians—champagne campaigners who stay on the road even after the election is over. Passionate and witty and lecherous and funny, they shake their fists at the Suits (incl. that “Male Model”) and the Audience and all Great Expectations and their own need for same.

Don Allred

Prattville, Alabama

If Aimee Mann were a short, pudgy, balding Jewish guy from New York, she’d be Paul Simon.

Philip Martin

Little Rock, Arkansas

On Supreme Clientele, the crispy Condoleezza Rice burner earner spit the sticky green Rickles pickles.

Sasha Frere-Jones

Manhattan

Coming from a cool vamp whose whole career has been an attempt to disappear, Lovers Rock makes Sade sound like some stateless, invisible world-music icon—Caetano Veloso hiding in the wallpaper.

James Hannaham

Manhattan

No songs by U2, Nick Cave, or Will Oldham were beatified during the making of Merle Haggard’s If I Could Only Fly.

Carly Carioli

Somerville, Massachusetts

Shaking it to “B.O.B.” is like mainlining caffeine, but “Ms. Jackson” wins because of those fractured beats, Andre 3000’s “Oooh” on the chorus, and the best lyric of the year.

Brent Burton

Washington, D.C.

“Stan” remains my single of the year—of the past few years—for that viral Dido melody, the smart epistolary conceit, the casually enjambed-on-it versifying, and the complex, compassionate “Leader of the Pack”-meets-The Mark David Chapman Story narrative. (Yes! Compassionate! Homophobes have hearts, too! Even for the lonely fan-boys who crush out on them! Isn’t this all terribly confusing?!)

Will Hermes

Saugerties, New York

“B.O.B.” is the song of the year; the only everything-all-the-time-bomb that could give Beck a run in the Postmodernism Doesn’t Suck sweepstakes. Sounds: Kraftwerk via Bambaataa. Beats: Photek via Tag Team. Guitar: courtesy of Prince’s Hendrix. Chorus: like a prayer. Plus it has a cool dance that goes with it. The fact that “urban” radio couldn’t love it is a testament to the staying power of the thug, but doesn’t approach Modern Rock radio’s cowardice. “B.O.B” didn’t fit the desperate format for no reason but skin color. And that’s the most shameful thing about music this year.

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Jane Dark

Brooklyn, New York