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Chill should ebb in March

Special to The Times

If you love your favorite record store, you might want to send a box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day, because music retailers are expecting to feel a little neglected then. Where last year they had new albums by Norah Jones and Kanye West to draw customers in droves throughout February, this year about the only sparks flying are for the recently released debut from hot rapper the Game.

“Last year Norah was all of February -- she owned the month,” says Jerry Suarez, senior product manager for the Virgin Megastores. “This year there’s nothing like that, which is unfortunate. We’d like to keep the momentum from Christmas instead of people learning to stay home again.”

But don’t feel too bad. As is often the case in matters of love, all they need is a little patience.

“Once March hits, the floodgates open,” says Lon Lindeland of the Best Buy chain.

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From then through Memorial Day, we’re looking at a steady stream of high-profile releases across the demographic board. New music from rapper 50 Cent, rockers System of a Down and country king Toby Keith are seen as sure things, with Coldplay given a shot at rising even further up into the pantheon of the era’s top-selling bands.

Santana has a chance for a third blockbuster with the latest in his series of collaborative albums, Jennifer Lopez is poised to once again be the center of both the pop and urban markets -- and, yes, even Mariah Carey is being given good odds at regaining at least a good share of past glory.

And should any of those falter, there are plenty of others ready to pick up the slack, giving an air of optimism to a panel of radio programmers, retailers and trade publication editors surveyed about upcoming releases. Joining Suarez and Lindeland on this panel assembled by Calendar are music directors Julie Pilat of pop station KIIS-FM (102.7), Matt Smith of rocker KROQ-FM (106.7), E Man of KPWR-FM (105.9), Tonya Campos of KZLA-FM (93.9) and Holly Schomann of MTV2, along with Radio & Records senior director of digital initiatives John Fagot.

Overall

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Win: 50 Cent, “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” (Interscope), tentative release date: March 8

“The first single, ‘Disco Inferno,’ is already making noise,” says E Man. “And the second single, ‘Candy Shop,’ will make even bigger noise.”

Place: Coldplay (Capitol), title and release date TBA

“They’re just two consecutive hits from being able to break the 5-million sales barrier,” says Fagot.

Show: System of a Down, “Mezmerize/Hypnotize” (Columbia), April, date TBA

“This is going to be huge,” says MTV2’s Schomann of the album that is considered a two-CD set, the first half arriving in April. The second disc, “Hypnotize,” won’t be released until the fall.

“I’ve heard some of it and there’s hits and heavy songs. They’re not going to lose their audience with this and will add new people.”

Pop

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Win: Mariah Carey, “The Emancipation of Mimi” (Island Def Jam), April 12

“There’s a really strong single with Jermaine Dupri and Fat Man Scoop that’s already buzzing in the clubs,” says Pilat. “I’m expecting this to be really hot.”

Place: Jennifer Lopez, title TBA (Columbia) March 1

“I’ve heard some snippets and it’s phenomenal,” says Best Buy’s Lindeland.

Show: Santana (J) title and date TBA

Breakthrough: Pilat picks Latin-pop figure Frankie J. for an especially strong showing in Southern California.

Also in the mix: The solo debut from Matchbox Twenty singer Rob Thomas

Hip-Hop

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Win: 50 Cent

Place: “The Longest Yard” soundtrack (Derrty Ent/Universal), due in May, date TBA

“Nelly is in the movie and producing the soundtrack with all the hot rappers on it,” says Fagot.

Show: Black Eyed Peas, tentatively titled “Monkey Business” (A&M;), date TBA

Breakthrough: Baby Bash

“He’s a Latin hip-hop artist who did very well for us with his last one,” says E Man. “This will be the big surprise for people.”

Also in the mix: Everything changes if Kanye West’s follow-up to last year’s “The College Dropout” arrives before Memorial Day.

R&B;

Win: Mariah Carey

Place: Jennifer Lopez

Show: Faith Evans, “The First Lady” (Capitol), March 29. Collaborators include the Neptunes and Jermaine Dupri.

Breakthrough: Someone in reggaeton, the Latin-reggae mix that is hot in New York and growing in L.A., with Daddy Yankee the leading artist.

Also in the mix: 112

Rock

Win: System of a Down

Place: Coldplay

Show: Audioslave, (Interscope) title and date TBA

“What started out as a curiosity turned out to be one of the biggest KROQ records,” says Smith of the 2002 debut from the former Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell with the three musicians from Rage Against the Machine. “We’re very excited about this new one.”

Breakthrough: Mars Volta’s “Frances the Mute,” which Smith says has a very good chance of taking the L.A. band from respected cult favorite to major stardom.

Also in the mix: Nine Inch Nails, Beck, Queens of the Stone Age, Weezer, Garbage, Jack Johnson

Country

Win: Toby Keith, title TBA (DreamWorks Nashville), May 17

“I don’t know much about the new album other than he’s red hot,” says Campos of the follow-up to his 4-million seller, released in 2003, “Shock’N Y’all.”

Place: Lee Ann Womack, “There’s More Where That Came From” (MCA Nashville), Feb. 8

Show: Miranda Lambert, “Kerosene” (Epic), March 22

Breakthrough: Shooter Jennings, “Put the ‘O’ Back in Country” (Universal South), March 1

“Shooter is the son of Waylon Jennings, so a lot will be expected,” says Campos. “But he shows strong talent, making this something we all want to hear.”

Also in the mix: Deana Carter’s “The Story of My Life,” Chely Wright’s “Metropolitan Hotel”


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