Extinction Level Event - The Final World Front (Elektra 62211)
At the beginning of Busta Rhymes' "Extinction Level Event - The Final World Front," a little girl asks her daddy, "What's it gonna be like in the year 2000?"
Her father, in a kindly voice, answers, "Well, sweetheart, for your sake I hope it'll be all peaches and cream. But I'm afraid the end time is near." With that, he launches into a description of future horrors, predicting death, disease and destruction for all of mankind. By the end of his speech, his voice has assumed an almost demonic menace.
"Wow, that's cool," burbles the moppet. "I can't hardly wait!"
That, in a nutshell, defines the appeal of "Extinction Level Event." Even though it's full of dire warnings and dark prophecies, it balances that gloominess with enough gleeful humor to make even its end-time prophecies entertaining. It may be the end of the world as he knows it, but Rhymes feels fine.
But then, who wouldn't feel good about rapping over beats as itchily contagious as these? Never mind that Rhymes' rat-a-tat delivery splatters verbiage as freely as squib shots in a John Woo movie; what makes his music work isn't the ferocity of his flow, but the inventiveness of his beats.
As with his first two albums, "Extinction Level Event" is powered by lean, stutter-step rhythm tracks, and that's what gives his music such a distinctive sound. Where other rap albums lay down beats with all the subtlety of a right cross, Rhymes' rhythms have an almost clockwork quality to them, with drums and bass ticking away in seemingly irregular yet perfectly co-ordinated patterns. So even though the groove sometimes sounds off-beat, the music's pulse is steady and sure.
For his part, Rhymes exploits the tension of those seemingly asymmetrical beats by pushing his magpie cadences right up to the edge of verbal overkill.
"Gimme Some More," for instance, contrasts a jittery, high-speed breakbeat against Rhymes' breathless flow, hyping the beat so relentlessly that you expect the rap to fly off the rails like an out-of-control roller coaster. But Rhymes' sense of time is so sure that he never really loses the beat - or his listeners' attention.
That's not to say "Extinction Level Event" is a total success. There are a few too many inter-song skits, and the duet with Ozzy Osbourne on "This Means War!" is less incendiary than might have been hoped.
But if indeed these are the end times, Rhymes is going out with a bang, not a whimper. ***
Bad Boy Greatest Hits, Volume 1 (Bad Boy 79612-13022)
Given how completely producer - and Bad Boy Records head - Sean "Puffy" Combs ruled the charts earlier this year, you'd think an album called "Bad Boy Greatest Hits, Volume 1" would be wall-to-wall Puffy. And boy, would you be wrong. Although Puff Daddy and the Family are represented on the album (by "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down" and "It's All About the Benjamins"), they hardly dominate it the way they did the Top 40. Nor does the Notorious B.I.G. loom large in this collection, being represented by just one selection - and a minor hit at that. Instead, the bulk of the album is given over to the likes of Total, Jerome, the Lox and 112, who hardly count as Bad Boy's best. **
Beau Jocque & the Zydeco Hi-Rollers
Check it Out, Lock It In, Crank It Up! (Rounder 11661-2158-2)
From the top, it feels as if Beau Jocque & the Zydeco Hi-Rollers are easing you into one big party. The band is way tight, and in early numbers, like "Keep A Knockin' " and "Slide and Dip It," listeners are effortlessly lifted to a Louisiana dance hall for a night of revelry. It's a bit disappointing, at this point, to hear the band's groove devolve into monotonous repetition. Crack accordionist Jocque seems lost at sea riffing on classics like "Tighten Up," the minor Archie Bell and the Drells hit, and "Tequila," the major Champs classic. In these and other numbers, Jocque has crossed the fine line between zydeco's trance-like quality and boredom. **1/2
I'm Back (Georgia Lina/Mercury 463 417 081)
Old soldiers may fade away, but not James Brown. Like the Eveready rabbit, Brown just keeps going and going, laying down the funk when most performers his age would simply lay down. "I'm Back" may not be the most original work he's ever done - heck, he even remakes "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" - but it's as solid as anything he's cut in the last quarter-century. It's great to hear him find new ways to play off old riffs in "Funk on ah Roll," and he seems as at home with the drum-machine pulse of "Break Away" as with the old-school groove of "What It Takes." James Brown back? He never left! ***
The Yellow Album (Geffen 24480)
Having just passed the 30th anniversary of "The White Album," it seems perfect timing for the Simpsons to release "The Yellow Album." That is, it would if it weren't for the fact that the album sounds like it has been sitting in the can for the last few years. (Hint: One track is produced by David Cole and Robert Clivilles, and Cole died three years ago.) Sure, it's a gas to hear Lisa give up the funk with George Clinton on "She's Comin' Out Swingin'," and Apu's "Twenty-four Hours a Day" is all a convenience-store anthem should be. But Homer's duet with Linda Ronstadt is pointless and painful, while Bart's big rap, "Love?", is no "Do the Bartman." *
Pub Date: 12/17/98