*** 1/2 Eightball & M.J.G., "In Our Lifetime," Suave House/Universal. This Memphis duo's third major release, "On Top of the World," made them national rap stars in 1995 thanks to its vividly detailed tales of low-income life in the South. After successful solo albums from each member, the team reunites for another stunning collection (due Tuesday). More musically subdued than their solo releases, the 14-cut set still carries a dramatic sonic atmosphere. Producers T-Mix and Mr. DJ opt for original live instrumentation rather than samples, creating a soulful soundtrack that features stirring guitars, funky bass lines and rich keyboards.
Even with this powerful musical punch, Eightball & M.J.G. carry the album. One of the most talented and creative hip-hop duos of all time, they deliver precision rhymes that tackle a wide range of subject matter. Unassuming as they describe their struggles, insightful as they reflect on oppression and disappointed as they realize the jealousy others hold for them, the two play perfectly off each other, with Eightball's relaxed flow the yin to M.J.G.'s more emotional yang.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.