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Our critics' picks in new releases


Nine questions for hip-hop heads, regarding The Minstrel Show:

1. Want attitude? Take Rapper Big Pooh's dictum on "Not Enough": "We only sleep on December 32nd." Or see Pooh on "Still Lives Through," one of his several answers to that weakest link specter: "I'm the best since slice bread, but you already know how it goes when me and 'Te be composing over instrumentals 9th be holding ... The B, The I, The G, The P, The O, The O, The H! There is none greater."

2. Want funnies? Go to "5th and Fashion," a miscreant, fictitious urban fashion store in Ahoskie, N.C. Or hear Phonte's verse on "The Becoming": "North Carolina Central, but we call it the yard 'cuz niggas wasn't trying to study abroad, they was trying to study a broad or two or three up in the dorms."

3. Want questions answered? Hear Phonte on "Hidin' Place" with Elzhi, responding to common questions in hip hop that creep up whenever someone even momentarily shifts focus: "So I sat back, chilled, dropped The Foreign Exchange and a lot of rap niggas got lost, heard Phonte carrying tunes and assumed he had got soft / They didn't understand it was my next direction / So I'm playing postman and addressing questions: 'Yes, I'm still in LB.' 'No, I'm not leaving.' 'No, I don't eat meat, but yes I'm still beefin'."

4. Want beats? Check 9th Wonder's "Say It Again" beat, a marvel of a production built on flute and wood block samples and tweaked choruses peaking from behind verses from Pooh, Phonte and Chaundon.

5. Want soul? Hear Darien Brockington's hook on "Not Enough." Satisfaction guaranteed.

6. Want smarts? Perhaps a smart turn on Jay-Z's "What More Can I Say?" the final verse of "Beautiful Morning"--"Niggas went from telling me I really shouldn't rhyme to droppin' a class ... Oh wait, hold up, yo. I'm gonna do it over."--gets finished with the first verse of the next track, "The Becoming": " dropping a classic album that motherfuckers couldn't find." 9th Wonder's beat shift is genius.

7. Want real? See Pooh on the first verse of "Slow It Down," a slow, soul jam with a beautiful 9th Wonder beat of synthesizer samples cascading over one another: "My mother called me Thomas, you can do the same / I been Pooh for so long it doesn't sound the same / My occupation is rap and I make a little change / I see ya' not impressed with what this life brings / Finished school, got a job, girl, do your thing."

8. Want emergent subversion of the ruling hip-hop class by the new guys and, simultaneously, of the unfaithful black male stereotype in the funniest song you will hear all year? "You was cheatin', Caught you creepin' The window to the wall, Skeeting skeeting." So goes the hook of "Cheatin'," a slow jam to make R. Kelly jealous, ripping Lil Jon's sexual non-subtlety in "Get Low" to point out a woman stepping out on the faithful man.

9. Want sarcasm that actually seems true after listening to The Minstrel Show, a major statement from a major force in hip hop that makes it all seem easy? "Dope beats. Dope rhymes. Because hip hop really ain't that hard."

Little Brother aces the quiz with a tough-to-tackle concept album: A+.

The Minstrel Show was released Sept. 12 on Atlantic Records. Little Brother plays the Cat's Cradle on Saturday, Oct. 7.

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