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KRS-One
I Got Next
(Jive)

Hip-hoppers get older faster than participants in virtually any other brand of music. But on I Got Next, KRS-One sounds as fresh and fiery as ever. The album starts indulgently but gains muscle as it goes along as a result of hard-edged production and KRS-One's ability to deliver knowledge in a manner that's always stimulating.

Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliot
Supa Dupa Fly
(The Gold Mind Inc./EastWest)

Elliot, who's a songwriter, producer and arranger as well as a frontwoman, conjures up ultra-commercial rap that doesn't make you feel guilty for savoring it. Supa Dupa Fly has too many cameos (Lil' Kim, Da Brat, Timbaland and Aaliyah are only a few of the guest stars), but Elliot makes her presence felt anyhow. Take that, Puff Daddy.

Mike Ladd
Easy Listening 4 Armageddon
(Mercury/Scratchie)

The joke in the title here is pretty much the only one on the album. Ladd is a very serious fellow whose highly political raps are reminiscent of the dark rumblings once associated with the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. Musically, it's reserved but ominous, which only makes Ladd's lyrical warnings all the more persuasive.

JAZZ

Drums and Tuba
Box Fetish
(T.E.C. Tones)

Leave your preconceptions at the door. The combination of Brian Wolff's double B-flat tuba, Neal McKeeby's guitar and Tony Nozero's drums is unexpectedly raw--a fusion of elements that rocks, swings or hollers with equal aplomb. Box Fetish is spare, unstudied and full of ideas that explode in fusillades of blessed racket.

Grismore/Scea Group
Of What
(Accurate)

Guitarist Grismore and tenor saxophonist Scea are little known among citizens of the jazz community. However, the dozen songs on which they and the other members of their quintet perform are infinitely more invigorating than the noodlings of many bigger names. The pieces are uncluttered but involving, modest but pleasantly dense.

Roscoe Mitchell
Sound Songs
(Delmark)

In the notes that come with Sound Songs, writer John Litweiler describes Mitchell, a veteran of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, as a "naked soloist," and he's not exaggerating: Mitchell makes every squeak and skronk on these two discs. It's a not a stunt, but rather a mammoth accomplishment by a Promethean player.

David Murray
Fo Deuk Revue
(Justin Time"

Murray is too old to be a young lion, but he acts more like one than do many musicians twenty years his junior. Fo Deuk Revue searches for the common ground shared by jazz, worldbeat, rap and rhythm and blues, and more often than not, it finds it. Murray's willingness to explore is only one of the reasons his music continues to matter.

Henry Threadgill & Make a Move
Where's Your Cup?
(Columbia)

Every recording saxophonist/flutist Threadgill makes seems to end up on one of my year-end lists, and why not? He is arguably the most consistent, trailblazing, forward-looking artist in jazz today. Backed by an eccentric ensemble that includes electric guitar, accordion and harmonium, Threadgill soars again.

MISCELLANEOUS

Cornershop
When I Was Born for the 7th Time
(Luaka Bop/Warner Bros.)

Tjinder Singh is a musical Mixmaster: He blends rock, pop, electronica and traditional Indian sounds into a concoction that's smooth yet exhilarating. In a live setting, Cornershop has yet to find its feet, but in the studio, Singh has few peers. 7th Time is eloquent, natural and completely captivating.

Cottonmouth, Texas
Anti-Social Butterfly
(Virgin)

Butterfly is a spoken-word epic that uses modern rhythms and an undeniable restlessness to shatter the guidelines that have for so long governed poetry in performance. In a sense, Jeffrey Liles and the Decadent Dub Team are throwbacks to the beatnik era, but their accute viewpoints and dry sensibilities are utterly modern.

Lutefisk
Burn in Hell Fuckers
(Bong Load Custom Records)

In a world where most of us humans walk the straight and narrow, the lovable lugs of Lutefisk adore anarchy Yber alles. Pop, punk, art rock, psychedelia and God knows what else is skewered throughout, but Burn is not a novelty. Rather, it's proof that dangerous music can be the most entertaining kind.

Stereolab
Dots and Loops
(Elektra)

Last year's Emperor Tomato Ketchup was Stereolab's peak moment, and Dots and Loops can't top it. But in its hip, subtle way, the act's newest full-length worms its way into your brain, then lingers in the most gratifying way conceivable. Equally engaging for your heart and your head.

Jim White
Wrong-Eyed Jesus!
(Luaka Bop/Warner Bros.)

Not quite country, not quite rock, Wrong-Eyed Jesus! is a dollop of musical folk art from a singer-songwriter whose eccentricities allow him to see clearly an America that most others miss. As he travels from "Book of Angels" to "The Road That Leads to Heaven," White tells tall, creepy tales that exude an offhand authority.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts