Kanye West

Yeezus |

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On his 2004 debut, The College Dropout, Kanye West famously proclaimed that "Jesus Walks" with us. Now his ego has grown to such mythic proportions that he's comparing himself to Christ with the title of his sixth solo album, Yeezus (a play on West's nickname, Yeezy). Just in case you weren't clear where he was going with that, one of the tracks is bluntly named "I Am a God": "I know He the Most High/ But I am a close high," he boasts over a sinister soundscape that evokes Hell more than Heaven. Indeed, the relentlessly gloomy Yeezus, wielding a decided industrial edge, could be called My Beautiful Darker Twisted Fantasy. The album also harks back to 808s & Heartbreak with its electro beats and West even crooning again at times. But the joyless, sometimes dirgelike quality makes Yeezus hard to love. Still, it's easy to admire brilliant moments like "Black Skinhead," a rumbling, "Monster"-esque banger on which he raps, "They say I'm possessed/ It's the omen," playing the demon instead of the deity.

LeAnn Rimes


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Given all the drama surrounding her highly publicized affair with now-husband Eddie Cibrian, which broke up both of their marriages in 2009, LeAnn Rimes certainly has plenty of juicy material for country songs. Spitfire, her first album with original tunes since the scandal, sparks with real-life heat and heart, from the ballads "Borrowed" and "What Have I Done?" to the deceptively breezy "Just a Girl Like You." Through it all, Rimes succeeds at turning the focus away from her being a tabloid figure and back to her being a first-rate country singer.

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"I'ma drop the album same day as Kanye ... And I don't mean no disrespect, I praise legends/ But this what's next, the boy sick can't disinfect." So J. Cole raps on Born Sinner about his decision to move up the release of his second album one week to face off rhyme-to-rhyme against Yeezus. Backing up all that bravado, the younger challenger beats West in this hip-hop showdown. Impressively handling production himself, this Jay-Z protégé crafts a cohesive, fully owned work with his soulful sounds and soul-baring lyrics. Cole's vibe sometimes recalls Nas, and he laments disappointing his idol over the jazzy sax samples of "Let Nas Down." Consider yourself redeemed, sinner man.

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Kelly Rowland

Talk a Good Game

Two of the best cuts on Rowland's fourth solo album nod to Destiny's Child: The confessional "Dirty Laundry" reveals her jealousy of Beyoncé's solo success after DC split, while the sassy kiss-off "You Changed" reunites the trio.

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Black Sabbath


After his transformation to cuddly reality-show dad, it's hard to fathom Ozzy Osbourne as the heavy-metal beast he was in Sabbath. Still, his first album with the band since 1978 manages to recapture some of their old black magic.

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"I've got soul and I'm not afraid to use it," sing the brothers Hanson on their latest. Well go on wit' your bad selves! They indeed display some R&B and funk swagger on tracks like the Motown-meets-Stax single "Get the Girl Back."

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Goo Goo Dolls


This pop-rock trio sing about a "Rebel Beat" on the opening song and first single of Magnetic. But there's nothing defiant or dangerous about these middle-of-the-roaders. "Slow It Down" is one of the few tracks that really attracts.

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