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Sage Francis -- Human the Death Dance (Epitaph) With a steady, bullish flow that almost never lets up, Sage Francis spits rhyme and metaphors with a brand of confidence foreign to most rappers. Rather than prop himself up on silly boasts about cars and women, the MC from Providence, R.I., attacks the microphone with a smart, authoritative voice. Tackling mainstream hip-hop, current events and even his own foibles, he comes across like a man who knows he's right. His self-assurance is grounded in peerless writing, and throughout Human the Death Dance, his second album for the punk-centric Epitaph label, Francis drops line after killer line, making a lyric sheet something of a necessary listening companion.

KRS-One and Marley Marl -- Hip Hop Lives (Koch) KRS-One and producer Marley Marl have joined forces, ending one of hip-hop's most historic beefs. That's big news for old-timers, but what does it mean to today's hip-hop fans, many of whom weren't born when the two legends were squabbling over the superiority of Queensbridge or the Bronx in the mid-'80s? For one thing, it offers youngsters a chance to get a history lesson - not only one based on facts, but on style as well. If KRS-One blows his own horn a trifle too often - something he has always done anyway - Hip Hop Lives reminds us that he has certainly earned that right.

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