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The top 10 albums of 2003

R. Kelly, Outkast and a tribute to Dolly Parton among the favorites
/ Source: The Associated Press

1. “Chocolate Factory,” R. Kelly: Your music has to be pretty darned good when you can make people forget that you’re accused of making child porn. R. Kelly’s “Chocolate Factory” was more than good — it was excellent. Though he had his typical bump-and-grind grooves, the album’s heart consisted of love ballads and gritty soul scorchers that harkened back to a ’70s vibe. Surprisingly romantic, even tender sometimes, “Chocolate Factory” was deliciously satisfying.

2. “Speakerboxxx-The Love Below,” OutKast: Just when you thought OutKast couldn’t get any more out there, they spring this on you — two deliciously warped CDs instead of the usual one. Andre 3000 and Big Boi split up, recorded their own solo discs and slapped them together as a double CD — Big Boi’s psychedelic rap on one, and Andre’s jazzy, existentialist musings on the other. At times bizarre, confounding but always entertaining.

3. “Get Rich or Die Tryin,”’ 50 Cent: In the annals of rap history, 50 Cent won’t go down as the greatest lyricist, the one with the best flow or even the best beats. But he had just enough of the right elements at the right time, producing an undeniably entertaining debut. His charismatic, slow-paced delivery combined with irresistible hooks had us partying from January until December.

4. “Just Because I’m A Woman: The Songs of Dolly Parton,” Various Artists: Tribute albums are a dime a dozen, and about as interesting. But this collection, celebrating the least-celebrated aspect of the legendary entertainer, is a standout. Except for Meshell Ndegeocello, most of the artists — from Sinead O’Connor to Joan Osbourne — channel their inner Dolly instead of trying to put their own stamp on uniquely Parton material. Especially noteworthy are Shania Twain’s tender “Coat of Many Colors” and Mindy Smith’s achingly desperate performance on “Jolene.”

5. “Worldwide Underground,” Erykah Badu: Though it wasn’t the artistic gem that her last disc, 2000’s “Mama’s Gun,” was, Badu’s EP was still a treat. No radio-friendly tracks here, just extended riffs that sounded as if you’d dropped in on a funky, after-hours jam session.

6. “Dangerously in Love,” Beyonce: After dominating Destiny’s Child for years, we didn’t think there was anything new Beyonce could offer on her solo debut. But her CD showed a sexier, edgier side that only broadened her base from hip-hop to pop, and she provided us with the year’s best summer anthem with the still-catchy “Crazy in Love.”

7. “Salt,” Lizz Wright: With a rich, sultry voice reminiscent of Cassandra Wilson or Oleta Adams, this young singer emerged as one of the most refreshing new voices in jazz with her elegant, intoxicating debut.

8. “Emphasizer,” Garage A Trois: This jazz-fusion collective hit all the right notes with this disc. Mixing everything from rock to R&B with a jazz feel, this played out like one extended groove that you never wanted to turn off.

9. “Heart Trouble,” Wanda Jackson: This rockabilly queen, now a senior citizen, returned to the spotlight with a splendid album that could show the kids a thing or two. Though she had help from Rosa Flores and Elvis Costello, it was her own spark that made this record so appealing.

10: “Chicken & Beer,” Ludacris: Sure, 50 Cent got all the hype this year, and Jay-Z’s “retirement” disc, “The Black Album,” got all the praise. But when it comes to pure fun, nobody had anything on Ludacris and his wildly decadent “Chicken & Beer.” Sure it was crude, rude and plain silly, but nobody can turn a phrase quite like Luda can, and he had plenty of unrepeatable gems on this album. A guilty pleasure, yes — but a pleasure nonetheless.