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SOUND CHECK : HIP-HOP.

Erykah Badu/``Baduizm''

Sultry, airy and relaxed, the honeyed old-school voice of soulful hip-hop chanteuse Erykah Badu hits a mellow groove on her best-selling debut.

Brooklyn resident Badu, who has studied Billie Holiday's vocal delivery, glides through several genres here, including r&b, classic soul and the more organic side of hip-hop. Her hit single, ``On & On,'' is a perfectly seductive example of Badu's powers.

The mesmerizing ``Baduizm'' (Universal), among the year's most interesting debuts, also features standouts such as the funky, piano-driven ``4 Leaf Clover'' and the freestyle workout ``Afro,'' delivered head-to-head with jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove.

Badu could sing the Tax Code and hold your attention. Four Stars

?13- Fred Shuster

The Notorious B.I.G./``Life After Death''

The posthumous second album by the Notorious B.I.G., a k a Biggie Smalls, would have topped the charts even if the rapper hadn't been killed in a still-unsolved shooting March 9.

The word among rap fans was that ``Life After Death'' (Bad Boy/Arista), the follow-up to Small's million-selling 1995 effort, ``Ready to Die,'' was some kind of masterpiece, a collection of two dozen largely autobiographical tracks describing the career trajectory of a crack dealer turned rap superstar.

For the most part, the just-released double-disc set lives up to the hype. Smalls wasn't small time as a rapper or lyricist. and the elegant production, usually the bane of this moronic genre, shines with energy.

But while positively gripping for your average 14-year-old gangsta rap loon, anyone who has been exposed to these kinds of rap albums for the past five years will find ``Life After Death'' simply banal, brimming with all the usual cliches - gunshots, threats, violence, misogyny, dirty talk, etc. - while adding little perspective and nothing new to the same old same old. Two Stars

?13- Fred Shuster

Spearhead/``Chocolate Supa Highway''

Like a harder-edged, more original Fugees, Michael Franti's Spearhead underscores tales of urban grit with fresh melodies.

On the disc's most biting track, ``The Payroll (Stay Strong),'' a string section jolts the listener, but takes nothing away from the acidic story of workers seen by their bosses as property.

``Chocolate Supa Highway'' (Capitol), the Bay Area hip-hop collective's sophomore album, is full of similar touches. Three Stars

?13- Fred Shuster

Scarface/``The Untouchable''

Houston's Scarface is another tough-talking rapper who often uses his own gritty experience on the streets as the basis of his rhymes.

He, too, has a top-notch production team making sure even the most offensive vignette goes down smoothly. Although this ex-Geto Boy's previous big seller, ``The Diary,'' boasted only a couple of memorable tracks, ``The Untouchable'' (Rap-A-Lot) is more consistent.

Part of the credit goes to the cameos from Daz, Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, Lisa Crawford and Ice Cube, who each lend sparkle to otherwise one-dimensional fare such as ``Money Makes the World Go Round'' and ``Game Over.'' Two Stars

?13- Fred Shuster

dance

Various/``Nuyorican Soul''

The rightfully named Masters at Work production team of ``Little'' Louie Vega and Kenny ``Dope'' Gonzalez blend salsa, jazz, r&b, disco and hip-hop for what must be the tastiest party album of the year.

``Nuyorican Soul'' (Giant Step/Blue Thumb), currently near the top of the contemporary jazz chart, has its roots in Latin music and the latest dance grooves. It's an ambitious concept the producers pull off seamlessly.

The array of talent here includes Roy Ayers, Tito Puente, Hilton Ruiz, Eddie Palmieri, George Benson, and the Salsoul Orchestra, topped by the striking vocals of salsa diva India and disco chanteuse Jocelyn Brown on genre-busting remakes of Rotary Connection's ``I Am the Black Gold of the Sun,'' Salsoul's own ``Runaway'' and other winners. Four Stars

?13- Fred Shuster

The Chemical Brothers/``Dig edYour Own Hole''

Britain's Chemical Brothers deliver hard-hitting electro, techno or whatever you want to call this squealing metallic noise designed to blow your speakers and make your head hurt.

Among the best and most audacious of the rave bands, the Chemicals (Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons) have the potential to generate sturdy sales of ``Dig Your Own Hole'' (Astralwerks/Caroline). Especially since the accent here is on relentless beats and imaginative radio-friendly soundscapes rather than ambient dub.

It doesn't hurt that Noel Gallagher from Oasis, space-rockers Mercury Rev and hot British singer Beth Orton drop by for cameos. Three Stars

?13- Fred Shuster

international

Serge Gainsbourg/``Comic Strip''

One of three wonderful new CD compilations featuring the collected works of French singer and notorious libertine Serge Gainsbourg, ``Comic Strip'' (Mercury) brings together the composer's late '60s attempts at Kinks-inspired pop - with more than a few French twists.

The late Gainsbourg, perhaps best known in this country for his suggestive duet with debutante Jane Birkin, ``Je t'aime ... moi non plus'' (``I love you ... neither do I''), included here, was subversive even as a composer of two-minute throwaways.

When he wasn't slipping double-entendres into songs, he was praising killers (``Bonnie and Clyde,'' a duet with Brigitte Bardot), worrying about oil spills (``Torrey Canyon'') and singing about suicide (``Chatterton'').

This is the Camembert of pop music. Three Stars

?13- Fred Shuster

CAPTION(S):

7 Photos

Photo: (1) The Notorius B.I.G.'s ``Life After Death'' almost lives up to its hype.

(2--7) no caption (CD covers)
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Apr 4, 1997
Words:875
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