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Ruff Ryders Stuck in the Same Territory

Rap’s most powerful empires have had a hard time living up to their early critical and commercial standards recently, from Puff Daddy’s Bad Boy Entertainment to Master P’s No Limit Records to the Juvenile-anchored Cash Money Records. Now the Ruff Ryders can be added to that list.

On its second compilation, the New York-based outfit sputters and stalls where it normally ignites and explodes. Producer Swizz Beatz, who has helmed hits for Jay-Z, DMX, Eve and others, has been criticized for the sameness of his sound, and that criticism is fully justified on this 18-cut collection (due in stores Tuesday). Beatz, who handles a majority of the tracks, assembles a string of indistinguishable sound beds that, overall, don’t match either the quality or intensity of his earlier work.

Typically explosive Ruff Ryders rappers DMX, Eve and the LOX’s Jadakiss deliver solid if unspectacular performances, but their mic time is limited, with Jadakiss the only one of the three appearing on more than one song. Artists not associated with the Ruff Ryders--or even the East Coast-- make the most impact. Los Angeles’ Snoop Dogg and Houston’s Scarface offer chilling verses on the wicked “WW III,” while Chicago’s Twista flows furiously on the stop-and-go “Twisted Heat.” The Ruff Ryders provide a rough ride, but not for the right reasons.

** 1/2 Mo Thugs, “Layzie Bone Presents Mo Thugs III the Mothership,” KOCH/State Street/Mo Thugs.

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Anchored by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony member Layzie Bone, this solid, 17-song collection showcases a number of adequate Bone proteges, none of them nearly as talented as their mentors. Layzie dominates when he appears on the album, which features street-centered Mo Thugs veterans as well as new talent. Occasionally run of the mill and rarely striking, the collection’s production doesn’t live up to Bone’s normally high sonic standards.

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.


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