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updated 01/30/2006 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/30/2006 01:00AM

The Notorious B.I.G.
Duets: The Final Chapter
RAP
CRITIC'S CHOICE

Nine years after his shooting death, the Notorious B.I.G. still looms large as one of the greatest rappers to rock the mike. And this deftly executed disc—on which freshly produced tracks pair old Biggie rhymes with new ones by a who's who of hip-hop—shows just why he remains a vital force. Executive-produced by his good friend and collaborator Sean “Diddy” Combs, Duets teams Biggie up with everyone from Eminem and Jay-Z to Nelly and Ludacris. The juicy highlights include “Just a Memory,” a duet with the Clipse that juxtaposes Biggie's eerily prophetic proclamation “You're nobody until somebody kills you” with a haunting bit of Diana Ross's “Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To),” and “1970 Somethin',” an old-school soul throwback featuring his widow, Faith Evans. In a cool twist, the gut-wrenching “Living in Pain” unites Biggie with his slain rival 2Pac. Also making posthumous appearances are Big Pun and Bob Marley. But it's the Notorious B.I.G.'s legacy that is truly reborn.


DOWNLOAD THIS: “Living in Pain”

II Divo
Ancora

POP-CLASSICAL

If II Divo has only 15 minutes of fame, the operatic pop quartet with the GQ looks and the Pavarotti-esque lung power certainly seems intent on cashing in on every second of it. Last April, after making their career-defining appearance on Oprah, these discoveries of American Idol judge Simon Cowell released their platinum self-titled debut. In October they returned with the hit holiday disc The Christmas Collection. Now the multinational, multilingual group—which consists of David Miller (U.S.), Sebastien Izambard (France), Urs Buhler (Switzerland) and Carlos Marin (Spain)—is back with its third release in nine months. Unfortunately, Ancora (which means “Again” or “Encore” in Italian) is full of more bombastic histrionics, from their overheated version of Eric Carmen's “All by Myself” to a rendition of Josh Groban's “You Raise Me Up” that aims for the rafters. These boys make even guest diva Celine Dion sound subtle.

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DOWNLOAD THIS: “I Believe in You (Je Crois en Toi)”

Gorillaz
SOUND OFF

The virtual band—created by Blur's Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett—is up for four awards, including Record of the Year for “Feel Good Inc.,” at the Feb. 8 Grammys.

So who's going to win more awards: you at the Grammys or King Kong at the Oscars?

MURDOC: He's a big beast, but no one can match the devastating might of Gorillaz. We're gonna wipe the floor with him. No sweat.

Who makes the decisions on the group's style and sound?

MURDOC: When it comes to the serious stuff, that's gotta be down to me. If it was left to these monkeys, we would have split a long time ago.

What do you all bring to the group?

RUSSEL: I bring the hip-hop edge.

NOODLE: I bring a flamboyancy and energy in my guitar playing that's electric.

MURDOC: I bring my big, bad self: evil looks, devil-may-care charm and the darkest, deadliest bass in the business.

2D: Apart from my singing, I bring the …

MURDOC: Endless stupidity. Just keep your mouth shut and look pretty, mate.

What are you guys wearing to the Grammys?

MURDOC: I'm having a 50-ft. metal cape made: black silk, satin lining and real pointy collars. I'm gonna descend from the rafters like some Satanic bat. This is my time, baby.

Duncan Sheik
White Limousine
ALT-POP

Duncan Sheik is one of pop's true R enaissance men. He has scored stage productions like the New York Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park presentation of Twelfth Night in 2002 and has his own musical, Spring Awakening, opening off-Broadway in June. For now, though, Sheik is back to being one of the most artful, thoughtful singer-songwriters around with this, his fifth disc. The follow-up to 2002's shimmering Daylight finds Sheik continuing to make rich, melodic pop that is at once literate and lovely, whether he's haunted by a former flame on the beautifully moody “I Don't Believe in Ghosts” or striving to be a better son on the lushly orchestrated “Fantastic Toys and Corduroys.” Elsewhere, Limousine turns political on the deceptively upbeat title cut, which takes an ironic look at American excess (“I guess they think it's what we want/ A smooth and easy ride/ Constellations of ceiling lights/ Hennessy and Naugahyde”), and “Star-field on Red Lines,” a mournful reflection on war that showcases Sheik's dreamy vocals to comforting effect.

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DOWNLOAD THIS: “White Limousine”

We Are Scientists
With Love and Squalor
ALT-ROCK
Well, do ya, do ya wanna know who the next Franz Ferdinand is? Look no further than the Brooklyn-based trio We Are Scientists, who employ a similarly catchy neo-new wave formula on their debut. The band is poised to break out in 2006 on the strength of contagious songs like “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt,” which makes up for its redundant lyrics with drummer Michael Tapper's frantic pounding. While these Scientists aren't reinventing the wheel, they're worth the experiment.

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DOWNLOAD THIS: “Nobody Move”

For information on where to find our Download This picks, go to www.people.com/downloadthis or AOL (Keyword: People)

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