From Rucker, rap that starts to sound rote

Special to The Times

Hailed for her socially conscious storytelling raps on albums by the Roots, 4 Hero and Bahamadia, hip-hop poet Ursula Rucker on Saturday offered a packed house at the Temple Bar a series of primers in personal empowerment. But rapping and singing over moody backdrops by guitarist and producer Tim Motzer, Rucker lacked both the lyrical punch and the beats to really get heads nodding.

Rucker's focus on self cut off access to her entertaining slice-of-life stories and her humor. Many pieces drilled into the subjects of heartbreak and minority images in the media, mired in unanswered questions and platitudes as in "Q&A;," from her album "Silver or Lead": "Can I live up to my own potential? / Is there any escape from disrespect, neglect, mass acceptance of convention?" On another, she asks, "What's your holy trinity? / Power, money, sex / Who's your own worst enemy? / Me."

Rucker's brand of name-check consciousness-raising might not have seemed so dry had she not followed a torrid and hilarious opening by Saul Williams. Gleefully celebrating a language all his own, Williams delivered a handful of long, complex poems. His new book, "Said the Shotgun to the Head," is spirited and life-affirming despite its grave subject matter -- a dose of strange new flavor just as some hip-hop poetry is starting to sound a bit rote.

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