Various Artists - Blazin' Hip Hop and R&B 
Music Disc Reviews Audio CD
Written by Dan MacIntosh   
Tuesday, 26 March 2002

Columbia Records
Performance: 8
Sound: 8
released: 2002

This may not be an original thought, but it’s nearly impossible to distinguish hip hop from R& B anymore. Rarely does one hear an R&B hit that does not also contain a little rap mixed in, nor does one often find hip hop examples that aren’t already built around R&B songs and/or that are free from additional R&B vocals. These two camps have melded into one synergistic community that exchange ideas freely. Think of it as the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of music: you can’t have the chocolate without the peanut butter, and if you like one, you’ll also like the other.

The Blazin’ Hip Hop & R&B collection is an excellent overview of today’s R&B and hip hop radio mix. It’s not, however, an album that lets you sample much harder-edged hip hop. The closest this disc gets to the mean streets is Nas’s "Got Ur Self A…," which builds a rap over Alabama 3's familiar "The Sopranos" opening song, "Woke Up This Morning." Nas is an East Coast icon, and while he tends to ramble a bit, he also raps with such self-assurance and conviction that you listen to every word he says. Xzibit ("X") and Cyprus Hill ("Lowrider") also add a touch of street credibility to this project.

This album is certainly no Urban CNN, in the same way Public Enemy releases were once described. Some of these raps are silly ("Chickenhead" by Project Pat), but most are either about good times ("Where The Party At" by Jagged Edge) or girls and girl trouble ("Yours & Mine" by Jermaine Dupri).

With all due respect to the fellas representing here, it’s the ladies who really steal this show. Destiny's Child’s "Bootylicious" borrows the guitar riff from Stevie Nicks' "Edge Of Seventeen" for an infectious groove; Jill Scott sounds like a latter-day Roberta Flack on her jazzy "A Long Walk;" Mary Mary raise the church roof with "Shackles (Praise You)" and Sade still wears well the crown of smooth jazz queen on "King of Sorrow."

With such a varied cast of characters, the sound and production on this release cannot be described in one blanket statement. Still, there are a few standout moments, such as the underlying melodic riff that scoots Jagged Edge’s "Where The Party At" along, and the loose and inviting vocal interplay on "Chickenhead" by Project Pat. The combination of Wyclef Jean’s Bob Marley-like singing with Mary J. Blige is also an aural treat.

Best of all, this gathering of hits is evidence that there’s a whole lot of variety happening on R&B radio right now. And while nobody here is exactly blazing a trail, they’re nevertheless making it one entertaining musical path to travel.

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