RECORD RACK

Like most other musicians, rappers regularly spend years toiling on an independent level, honing their craft and waiting for their big break. Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz are no exception. Appearances on a multitude of mix tapes and collaborations with Shaquille O'Neal and the Notorious B.I.G. hadn't done the trick, but when "Deja Vu (Uptown Baby)," the pair's tribute to the Bronx--hip-hop's birthplace and the group's home--exploded late last year, Tariq and Gunz were thrust into the spotlight.

Their debut album doesn't live up to the expectations of their breakthrough single. Although they deliver several satisfying songs, the scratchy-voiced Tariq and the smooth-flowing Gunz lack the charisma to carry the 18 cuts. Mixing misogynistic gangster themes with touching tributes to the underappreciated women in their community hardly makes for a consistent lyrical package, especially since other rappers have covered these diametrically opposed topics with more authenticity and force.

In fact, with music that varies from blatant, boring rehashes of past pop singles to lifeless hard-core backdrops, Tariq and Gunz sink as they attempt to appeal to both commercial devotees and their underground fans.

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Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).

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* Excerpts from these albums and other recent releases are available on The Times' World Wide Web site. Point your browser to: http://www.latimes.com/sound clips

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