He wields a gun ("Give me a Smith & Wesson and I'll have niggaz undressing"), loves Nike sneakers and smokes "blunts" because Life's a Bitch ("and then you die, that's why we get high/'cause you never know when you gonna go"). NAS feels "blessed" to have reached age 20, but he portrays this bleak life honestly and with lyrical finesse - and without bashing women - unlike many so-called gangstas' shock-for-sales rantings. Rap has turned his life around and made him thoughtful, as shown in Half Time: "(I) won't plant seeds/don't need an extra mouth I can't feed." The top production work (Pete Rock, Gang Starr's D.J. Premiere, Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest) sizzles with irresistible rhythms that sample everyone from jazz veterans the Heath Brothers (One Love, a moving letter to a convict friend) to Michael Jackson (It Ain't Hard to Tell). DIVA RESURRECTED: Don't count out vocalist Rachelle Ferrell. Her magnificent self-titled debut album, despite Capitol's subpar marketing, remains on Billboard's R&B album chart after 64 weeks. Her multi-octave voice has been compared to both Mariah Carey's and opera diva Kathleen Battle's, though to my ears her album is the most classic since Anita Baker's Rapture. Now the label is releasing a third single, Nothing Has Ever Felt Like This - Ferrell's duet with Will Downing. Apparently, its release was delayed by Capitol's staff shakeup last year. The album is now being given a big push, treated almost as a new release, and Ferrell is finally getting her due.
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