*** 1/2XSCAPE"Off the Hook" So So Def*Appearing...

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XSCAPE

"Off the Hook"

So So Def

*

Appearing too soft is a misstep that can wreck the credibility of any self-respecting urban artist. This Atlanta-based quartet follows up its 1993 hits "Just Kicking It" and "Understanding" with an impressive array of tracks that run the gamut from B-girl toughness to Southern homegirl sweetness--and both stances are equally effective.

There are songs here as blatantly sexy as any you might name by Adina Howard, but they're tempered with a lot more heart, humor and tenderness. Not tender at all is "Can't Hang," a bruising assessment of a would-be lover on which rapper M.C. Lyte adds her own bitingly funny two cents.

When they drop the hard-core posturing to get nakedly poignant on "Do You Want To" and "Do Like Lovers Do," Xscape is fully in its element. It's tough to make softness not look like a liability these days. That ability is probably Xscape's biggest strength.

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