This hefty newcomer sounds an awful lot like another rotund rapper, the late Notorious B.I.G. The eerie resemblance may turn off those who prefer the real thing to a carbon copy. Still, he does a fair job of stepping out of a very large shadow. Even his critics won't be able to resist the reggae-fied "Compton," a tribute to his L.A. neighborhood.
MOS DEF, THE NEW DANGER
Since his last solo CD in 1999, Mos Def has been busy flexing his acting muscles in films like The Italian Job. On this sprawling set, he stretches out as a musician, even occasionally singing, doing a credible Bob Marley-esque turn on "The Beggar." But it's his droll, chilled-out rhyme style on cuts like the jazzy "Sex, Love & Money" that makes him truly def.
DE LA SOUL, THE GRIND DATE
The Daisy Age rappers get some of their bloom back on this disc, which features cameos from Common, Carl Thomas and Spike Lee (who introduces the positive sermon "Church"). Flavor Flav joins them in kicking it old-school style on "Come On Down." And the trio cleverly sample the Jackson 5's "Never Can Say Goodbye" on "No."
LIL ROMEO, ROMEOLAND
Given that he stars in the Nickelodeon series Romeo!, it's no surprise that this 15-year-old emcee plays to the kiddie crowd with cuts like the single "My Cinderella," on which the loverboy raps about getting his girl home before midnight. But grown folks will catch interpolations of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes and Evelyn "Champagne" King.