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Jay-Z "Kingdom Come"

(Def Jam)

Goes well with superstar guest producers and hype.

Jay Z's post-retirement release provides a much-needed break from the influx of nursery-rhyme, snap-your-fingers type of popular urban music regrettably known as hip-hop. Yet "Kingdom Come" doesn't quite uphold its anticipated reign. Jay Z is a brilliant artist, but even with a close ear to the speaker, it's difficult to hear the Kingdom a-comin'.

Jay makes a wonderful attempt to resurrect the genre by enlisting Rocafella staple producer Just Blaze and West Coast super-producer Dr. Dre to hammer out most of the tracks, and his intricate lyrics fare well with melodies from a few A-list chart-toppers such as John Legend, Usher, Beyoncé and Ne-Yo. Still, "Kingdom Come" fails to command any more appeal than Jay's rave-reviewed farewell project, "The Black Album." Economically speaking, Jay's reached the law of diminishing returns.

"Kingdom Come" isn't a bad album, but its message isn't strong enough to warrant a retirement rollback. A reflective Jay stomps out rumors in "Lost One" and "Trouble" and sounds off about Hurricane Katrina in "Minority Report," but what's left to communicate when you've said it all? *** L— Shaina C. Farrow



Various Artists "Rhythms del Mundo: Cuba"

(Hip-O)

Goes well with reheated leftovers from a Kuba Kuba breakfast.

Here's a strange concept: Take the vocals from familiar pop and rock songs and give them to Cuban musicians to create new backing tracks in the style of the Buena Vista Social Club. So you get Coldplay's "Clocks" with the tense piano turnaround replaced by a shuffling syncopated tinkle, Artic Monkeys' "Dancing Shoes" swapping out Doc Martens for Cuban heels, and Maroon 5's "She Will Be Loved" even better suited for the eclectic boutique's in-store hi-fi.

There's nothing offensive about these new arrangements, and they demonstrate the elasticity of the Cuban arrangements — how easily these instruments can wrap themselves around various songs and moods. Still, the artist selection is so uninspiring and aimed squarely at the middle of the road (Kaiser Chiefs, Dido, Jack Johnson, Sting … yawn) that it's difficult to pay attention to more than a track or two. Better are the remakes that combine new vocals, like Coco Freeman's new take on U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and Franz Ferdinand's "The Dark of the Matinee." ** — Mark Richardson



CSS "Cansei De Ser Sexy" (Sub Pop)

Goes well with new-wave disco parties and the Internet.

Few indie rock bands know how to get people dancing crazy. Cansei De Ser Sexy (Portuguese for "tired of being sexy") is one of them. Hailing from Sao Paolo, Brazil, this group of mostly female artists (a designer, cinema student, fashion designer, graphic designer and art student) have been playing their instruments for only a few years, but they already know how to make infectious, punk-influenced new-wave disco that gets the party off the couch.

The group, which started over the Internet, sings in English, but what makes this an interesting debut is the sheer joyful abandon with which they wear their influences on their sleeves (such as LCD Soundsystem, The Slits, Yeah Yeah Yeahs) while managing to sound both new and a little retro at times. The album busts out of the gate strong, with catchy guitar rocker "Patins" segueing straight into the first single, international club hit "Alala," then a characteristically blip-happy disco number whose title references an indie rock band, "Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above."

The album is at its best when playfully snotty lead singer Lovefoxx is let loose to vogue and trollop over poppy melodies in her accented English. The lyrics aren't bad either: Where else are you gonna hear lines like this one from "Art Bitch": "Suck my art hole"? **** — Brent Baldwin



Justin Timberlake "Future Sex/LoveSounds" (Jive Records)

Goes well with Jell-O shots and F-bombs.

Faring better than the other half of Nipplegate, Justin Timberlake solidifies his position as white America's answer to Usher with this follow-up to 2002's "Justified."

But he goes beyond such categorizations thanks to producer Timbaland, whose sonic creativity complements Timberlake's artistic daring. The duo gets in its zone with the deft "Let Me Talk to You" interlude joining the Prince-friendly "Sexy Ladies" and the infectious "My Love." Highlight "LoveStoned" is sublime, as is "I Think She Knows."

In spite of the mixing of multiple genres and the serpentine, futuristic vibe of the keyboards in various songs — reminiscent of '80s/'90s group Human League at its best — the project holds together well. The result: "FutureSex/LoveSounds" comes correct with a smart, edgy and urban attitude funky enough for the occasional F-bomb here and there, yet cosmopolitan enough to go well with the Jell-O shot/apple martini crowd. ***— Willie Hobbs

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