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JADAKISS Kiss of Death ****


Like every hip-hop album that has schemes to break it big, Jadakiss aligned himself with the stars and will assuredly reap the benefits. Kiss of Death boasts a list longer than Santa Claus’ of “feats”—Snoop Dogg, DJ Quik, Nate Dogg, Mariah Carey (blech), Pharrell, Sheek and Eminem, to name a few. It’s all about name association/brand recognition, ya’ll. But here’s one rapper that deserves da Mott’s—Kiss boasts beats lower than sea level, rivaled only by Bubba Sparxx, creative oddball rhythms and above all, smart, aware, brash lyricism. (Ruff Ryder/Interscope)


SWEETBACK Stage 2 ****


Sweetback eschew the usual R& route of predictable musical themes by standing out—and standing alone—with their eclectic, genuine take on mellow, R& -based music that’s more Yo La Tengo than Janet Jackson. A mystical golden layering of maracas, guitar strumming, gentle horns and light, airy vocals is the perfect accompaniment for sipping lemonade on an Athens beach. Former band boss Sade helped write and produce the album, and Mecca Lady Bug (Digable Planets) contributes some vocals. (Epic)


MARAH 20,000 Streets Under the Sky ***


Clutching the grime and sweat of Philly’s streets tight under their chin, Marah exude an interpretive angle that is as much a product of their environment as say, Faulkner’s was of his. Their energy would fill an all-night honky-tonk dive on their city’s East Side with hopeful, addictive buoyancy, marrying the harmonica and jangle-bar piano of Bruce Springsteen with the honeyed rock of the Lemonheads and the narrative powers of Bob Dylan. (Yep Roc)


VELVET REVOLVER Contraband **


Velvet Revolver—no connection to Velvet Underground, Sex Pistols, Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Goldmine, Revolver Magazine, L.A. Guns, or the London Suede—is yet another 2004 soopergroup guaranteed to sell millions of albums no matter how sub-average the music is. Made up of Stone Temple Pilot Scott Weiland, GNR survivors Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum, and some other guy, Velvet Revolver’s claims of “rebirth” confusingly result in yet more dumbed-down, overproduced, radio-friendly sludge. (RCA)


EIGHTEEN VISIONS Obsession *.5


Although Obsession was technically released on Trustkill, Eighteen Visions signed to Sony in April, and it shows. Gone is the jagged whirlwind of weighty guitar and raw, anguished howls of metalcore’s maligned fashioncore maestros, replaced by highly accessible, disappointing pop music with pat choruses which are sure to be spinning on X96 any day now. Brings to mind that scene from the Dark Crystal where the slaves are having their vital essence sucked out by the Skeksis. (Sony/Trustkill)

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Rebecca Vernon

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