"Kiss Tha Game Goodbye"
Given Jadakiss' musical rmit's no surprise that fans were eager to check out his debut solo CD. Not only is Jada a prominent associate of the all-star rap supergroup Ruff Ryders trading verses with platinum artists Eve and DMX, backed by roducer Swizz Beatz he's also a founding member of The Lox, whose high-profile departure from Puff Daddy's Bad Boy Records made the group members overnight ghetto superstars. Launched by the sputtering single "Put Ya Hands Up," Jada's latest, "Kiss Tha Game Goodbye," debuted at No. 5 upon release. "Hands" actually proves to be one of the disc's less-interesting offerings. Better is the verbal firepower found on the brilliantly titled "Jada's Got a Gun," where the MC peels off a whole arsenal of brain-bending verses like he wrote them in his sleep. Sure every gangsta rapper out there has taken this lyrical path before, but few walk it with Jada's evocative style. "As a young boy/Always carried a cap gun/And fell in love with it/First time I clap one," Jada boasts like hip-hop's answer to Huckleberry Finn. Swizz Beatz, DJ Premier and Timbaland are but a handful of the producers manning the boards on "Game," and the results are predictably booming. Of course, rap's all-stars also make appearances, including Nas, Snoop Dogg and nearly everyone from the Ruff Ryders and Lox crews. For the most part it's fun, but one can't help the creeping sensation of familiarity. Dull between-song skits, unforgivably clichlyrics ("Get money like it grow on trees,") and horrid musical choices (Michael MacDonald's drabfest "I Keep Forgetting [We're Not In Love Anymore,"] is sampled on "Kiss is Spittin") drag down the proceedings, but Jada usually makes up for it with his uncanny knack for pulling lines out of thin air with the deftness of a master magician: "I do a lot of reading/And only eat pasta/Shrimp fettucini/And penne alla vacca," he deadpans with delicious comedic timing. For that line alone, Jada probably deserves a thumbs up.
The Isley Brothers
The original incarnation of The Isley Brothers enjoyed a fairly successful career as an R&B vocal group in the '50s and '60s. The band wrote and recorded classics like "Shout!," "This Old Heart of Mine" and "Twist and Shout," and a young Jimi Hendrix began his music career as the group's guitarist. In the '70s, the Isley's were reborn as one of the funkiest outfits this side of Parliament, producing a slew of fantastic records and revitalizing their career. "It's Your Thing," "Who's That Lady" and "For the Love of You" were just a few of the better known tracks cranked out by the retooled Isleys, which added younger brothers Ernie and Marvin to inject some new blood. The '80s proved to be lean years, but heavy hip-hop sampling including Ice Cube's massive hit "It Was a Good Day," which took its backing track from the Isley's "Between the Sheets" helped reignite the band's career. Still, after more than 40 albums and four decades in the industry, even the Isleys had to be in shock when their latest release "Eternal" entered the pop charts at No. 3, simultaneously topping the R&B charts at No. 1. "Eternal" probably won't have an extended shelf life, and with only two Isleys left (vocalist Ronald and guitarist Ernie) the "band" is sailing at half-mast. But Ronald, who's adopted the goofy nickname Mr. Biggs for no apparent reason, still has the buttercream voice that was at the forefront of the group's '70s lineup. On "Secret Lover" (the requisite sex-'em-up number) his supple throat handily overcomes the bawdy lyrics, soaring into highs and swooping into lows with effortless grace. Dumb nickname or not, Ronald is the real deal: a soul singer who can eat guys like Usher for breakfast and still have plenty of room for seconds. Musically, brother Ernie's Hendrix-like guitar playing is all over the tracks, only with less interesting results. Though the axeman has never received his proper critical due, Ernie has an annoying tendency to overplay and refuses to alter his trademark tone from song-to-song. Ernie's distorted, echoey sound dates all the way back to '70s classics like "Voyage to Atlantis," but it doesn't seem to have changed one iota since then. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it would be interesting to hear the guitarist experiment once in a while. Breaking new musical ground isn't the point of "Eternal," though. Instead, the point is to recreate, as much as possible, the formula that made the group famous. That is more than accomplished here, but those looking to include some Isleys on their listening menu would be better off checking out (or rediscovering) those untouchable '70s classics.