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8 MILE SOUNDTRACK, Various Artists – Based loosely on the life story of Marshall Mathers, who grew up to become pre-eminent rapper Eminem, this soundtrack features the controversial Detroit star’s most powerful and personal song yet, “Lose Yourself.” The album also introduced 50 Cent, the best-selling artist of 2003, and included strong songs by soul singer Macy Gray and rap stars Jay Z, Nas, Rakim and Gangstarr. Altogether, it makes for an outstanding introduction to the genre – and to how widely expressive and flexible hip-hop can be.

THE BLACK EYED PEAS, Elephunk– The L.A.-based quartet bring a positive, politically charged push to their inventive raps and multicultural arrangements. Weaving four voices with unconventional beats, brass accents and a lively, challenging attitude, the four Peas take a light approach in their music, unafraid to make it as catchy as possible. But the whole idea is to hook a listener to open them up to their humanistic message that emphasizes celebration while downplaying violence and hate.


MARY J. BLIGE, Love & Life – The Queen of Hip Hop Soul, as she’s called, is the Aretha Franklin of her generation. A powerhouse singer, she avoids the crass commercial posturing of most modern R&B singers. Instead, she takes a personal approach to material that highlights her gospel-powered voice and her deeply felt connection to her material. In an age of disposable pop, Blige sings for the ages.

N.E.R.D., Fly or Die – Much like their Southern brethren OutKast, the masterminds behind N.E.R.D. present endlessly innovative ideas in the catchiest yet zaniest tunes they can create. The band consists of Pharell Williams and Chad Hugo of the popular production duo The Neptunes, along with rapper Shay. Like the Beatles’ White Album, the Clash’s Sandinista or any number of records by Todd Rundgren or Stevie Wonder, the N.E.R.D. guys have so many inspired impulses that the songs have an attention-deficit problem – they burst with creativity yet sound like they need a focus. It’s a head-spinning, psychedelic treat.


ERYKAH BADU, Worldwide Underground – Badu’s organic, spiritual music goes against the grain in a synthetic, hedonistic era. Yet, despite her humanistic approach, she manages to create songs that are outspoken and challenging rather than laid-back and passive. With a voice that sounds like Diana Ross after a few joints, and with a musical style that blends Curtis Mayfield’s sexy soul with Sade’s sophisticated cool, she stands as one of the most distinctive and progressive artists in hip hop.

VAN HUNT, Van Hunt – Soul’s newest love man finds a way to transform old-schools into something as fresh as tomorrow. Hunt can remind you of Sly Stone, of Al Green, of Prince – of any number of R&B giants – without ever mimicking them. Past that, he draws on new-wave melodies, on laid-back blues, on all manner of non-soul sounds – proving he’s not afraid to be as eclectic and as free as his muse directs. Hunt proves that modern soul remains as vibrant and as expansive as ever, in the hands of someone willing to ignore formula. / Issue 39 - September 2018
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