- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 18, 2001

BLU CANTRELL
So Blu
(Arista)
Here's a lesson every man should heed: Don't mess with Blu Cantrell. And — remember this one especially — never, ever cheat on her.
Of course, any man who does knows exactly what he's going to get from Miss Cantrell's hit single, "Hit 'Em Up Style (Oops!)," from her debut album, "So Blue." As part of a recent wave of anti-man tunes, the song details Miss Cantrell's way to strike back: by taking his credit cards, going to an upscale department store (she likes Neiman Marcus, but it's safe to say any store will do) with her friends and maxing them out.
That said, even men on her bad side will find some worthiness to the track, a swing-laced R&B; song that has been all over the radio this summer. The addition of the swing elements sets Miss Cantrell, a former backup singer to "P. Diddy" when he was known as "Puff Daddy," apart from the emerging group of divas-in-waiting that includes Alicia Keys. Unfortunately, those elements only can be felt on one other track, "Swingin.'"
The other tracks here would be indistinguishable from the rest of the R&B; out there except for the strength of the lyrics, most of which were co-written by Miss Cantrell, and strong production work by "LA" Reid and "Tricky" Stewart. Miss. Cantrell sounds nice accompanied by a piano. But, as many young divas are wont to do, she tends to over-sing at times. — Scott Silverstein

THE CROSS MOVEMENT
Human Emergency
(Cross Movement Records)
"Human Emergency," the latest release by Philly-based rap quintet the Cross Movement, breaks new ground for the Christian rap genre. With production duties shared by Lee Jenkins and former CM member Tru-Life., the group has managed to branch out stylistically without forsaking its traditional East Coast underground sound.
The Cross Movement has included several more mainstream, progressive beats than were on its previous releases, "Heavens Mentality" and "House of Representatives." While the album is still predominantly sample-driven East Coast hip-hop, new-style synthesizer driven beats on the Jenkins-produced tracks have given the group a more radio friendly sound. Also, the track "Know Me" is stylistically more akin to Southern rappers Outkast than New York staples such as Mobb Deep or Nas.
Yet despite this stylistic exploration, the Cross Movement is still unabashedly Christian. With theologically rich lyrics and doctrine woven into every verse, the liner notes read more like Charles Spurgeon than Chuck D. Yet refusing to water down its lyrics has in no way reduced the credibility or skill of this formidable posse. "Human Emergency" proves that the Cross Movement can rap with the best of the best and still come out on top.
If the album has one weak spot it has to be track 11, "Lord?" which features British rappers Ministry of Defence. Try as it might, M.O.D. is unable to match the lofty standards attained by the rest of the album. With only average beats and substandard rhyming, "Lord?" stands as the throwaway track on an otherwise stellar album.
"Human Emergency" is not just an excellent Christian rap album, it is an excellent rap album. The Cross Movement is setting the standard for the rest of the industry to follow. — Jennifer L. Piccolo

FIDEL
Fidel
(Old Devil Moon Music)
Fidel's music doesn't sound like much on first listen, but after a few hours spent digesting the tunes, it's amazing how the group's melodies stick in your head. Formed from members of two popular local groups (Colouring Lesson and Live Alien Broadcast), the debut album from the Baltimore quartet seems to herald great things to come.
That's something that longtime Fidel fans already know, though. As an amazing live band, Fidel loses some of its spontaneous raw edge when put in a studio, but the strength of its material compensates for some of the polished studio feel.
The band pays homage to its musical influences (the Police and Sublime are two of the strongest) without mimicking them, a difficult line for many current bands to walk. The opening track "Braces" kicks off at a quick pace with lead singer-guitarist-songwriter Dave Hill's voice soaring like Robert Plant (not the only time the band ventures into Led Zeppelin-like territory) over a power-chord heavy riff and a catchy bass line from Christian Valiente.
The pace is quick throughout the eight-track record (it clocks in at 25 minutes), even on the slower songs. One of these highlights is "Paper Moon," a Bob Marley-esque romp into the rock-reggae world with Mr. Hill's rolling vocals playfully pushing the melody along while his band mates add harmonies worthy of the Beatles.
That song drops into "Blah," probably the best hard track on the record, with its pop punk chorus of "It doesn't feel the same to me," a worthy label for the band's sound. — Derek Simmonsen

VARIOUS ARTISTS
"House Party" soundtrack
(Universal Music Group)
These days, it seems, everything is being reissued.
Even soundtracks. Even soundtracks that most would rather forget, like the silly, dated "House Party" soundtrack.
Maybe the Universal Music Group is hoping to cash in on that demographic of nostalgic listeners who can't resist the Saturday afternoon cable replays of this 1990 visual time capsule.
"House Party," for those who don't remember, featured the comedy stylings of that pseudo rap superstar duo Kid 'N Play.
Kid, the brainy half, ruffled the feathers of many a suburban parent with his tall, Eraserhead hairstyle. Play, the cooler one, wore his own flattop.
(Kid's hair is now short and he's been spotted on the Pamela Anderson hit "VIP." Play apparently performs in gospel theater.)
The movie, jammed full of extras dancing the Cabbage Patch in funky, multicolored outfits, spawned two sequels and a Saturday morning cartoon. Consider it the cleaner, dancier precursor to the Ice Cube comedy "Friday."
As for the "House Party" soundtrack, it features such forgotten acts as Arts and Crafts and Force M.D.'s.
The only represented artist still making money is L.L. Cool J., but the lyrics to his contribution, "To Da Break of Dawn," include the line: "A brother with a perm deserves to get burned."
Having said all that, I confess to secretly loving this album. — Gerald Mizejewski

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Love Kills (From the motion picture soundtrack, "Sid & Nancy")
(MCA)
That anybody took the movie "Sid & Nancy" seriously is trouble enough. The film was a grotesque cartoon that was so out of touch one has to wonder if the producers even spoke with anyone remotely connected to the British punk scene circa 1976. That movie's pathetic rendering of what were actually true revolutionaries is the fault of both Alex Cox, the film's producer, and Hollywood, which simply wanted a populist view of a movement that it could not take seriously.
The music here, it appears, is released posthumously while it should never have been issued at all. These are tepid songs by washed-up performers who once knew better, including the Circle Jerks, John Cale and Joe Strummer.
The movie presumes to explain the sad and self-destructive story of Sid Vicious, bass player for the Sex Pistols. The real story can be found in the movie "D.O.A." and the book "And I Don't Want to Live This Life," which was penned by the mother of Sid's girlfriend. The story is a rough one with a bad end: two dead. It never deserved the horrid lampoon that is both the movie and this soundtrack. Any dignified artists would not have anything to do with the abomination. What you get, then, is this weak offering. — Steve Miller

PUBLIC ENEMY
The Best of Public Enemy
(Def Jam)
Groundbreaking and debatably racist, Public Enemy burst out of Long Island, N.Y., in the late 1980s espousing hate and vitriol for many things white and, for that matter, most things in general. For the latter, they can certainly be absolved. But their black power stance, which played predictably well with white college students, remains a deal breaker. Were a Caucasian band to spout such pride, it would be censored and cast into society's basement.
Musically, Public Enemy borrowed liberally and wonderfully from old-schoolers such as Sugar Hill and Trouble Funk, supplemented by a generous knowledge of most genres, all the better to sample you with. "Welcome to the Terrordome" remains a masterful burst of rhythm, with singer Chuck D. spouting his disenchantment over a chaotic buzz of snatches and scratches from DJ Terminator X.
Public Enemy took chances and was rewarded, rightfully, for its musical prowess and inspired sound collages that bordered on utter noisy rain with big beats.
Socially, it should be ashamed of playing the race card for a buck, like most others in the civil rights industry. — S.M.

THE ELMS
Big Surprise
(Sparrow Records)
It may be a "Big Surprise" bands still play simple, feel-good rock 'n' roll.
During a time when popular music trends lean toward the techno-synthesized, Euro pop sound, the Elms return pop-rock to its classic simplicity, lending a happily nostalgic mood to their new release, "Big Surprise."
The Elms, a relatively little-known pop-rock band from the Christian rock scene, offers a modern, upbeat Christian version of mainstream acoustic-influenced rock, relying on the influence of the Beatles, Oasis and the Foo Fighters. Using ornamental instrumentation of trumpet and strings, the Elms pull a twist to their classic sound and create a light and airy, easily liked product. The voice of lead vocalist Owen Thomas sounds uncannily close in quality and style to that of lead vocalist from Ben Folds Five or the Daybirds. The Elms' lyrics, while light and simple, are noticeably Christian in their message and optimism.
"Hey, Hey," their first cut, sets the stage for the rest of the album. This first track opens with up-beat hand clapping, driving rhythms and catchy, slangy lyrics. The rest of the album then strays from its preliminary path by slowing the pace and diverting to more thoughtful lyrics. Although the album may disappoint those expecting the band to continue in the style of their opening track, the Elms succeed in continuing to draw their listeners down the path of the rock 'n' roll reminiscent of when music was fun.
— Rachel Hoskins Lioi


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