Young Jeezy, “The Recession”Young Jeezy balances commercial/pop aspirations with core hip-hop sounds on “The Recession,” getting a lift from DJ Toomp, Drumma Boy, Midnight Black and longtime collaborator Shawty Redd on this sonically enjoyable follow-up to 2006’s “The Inspiration.” Previously criticized for strange rhymes and repeating lines, Jeezy delivers some great turns of phrase on songs like “Wordplay,” where he answers claims of glorifying drug dealing with the couplet, “They want wordplay and I got bird play.” Considering Jeezy’s admission that he’s a bit uncomfortable making female-skewed songs, the blend manifests itself most clearly on “Taking It There,” with Trey Songz crooning a romantic chorus. While fans may gravitate more toward cuts like “Vacation” and “Yeah,” “Taking It There” could wind up being the track Jeezy needs to cement himself as a mainstream artist and not just a favorite of rap aficionados.
Brian Wilson, “That Lucky Old Sun”After taking care of some unfinished business in recent years, Brian Wilson shows he still has the stuff of conceptual brilliance on his eighth solo album. “That Lucky Old Sun” is the kind of song cycle that would make Kurt Weill proud, a set of disassociated but nevertheless thematically linked tunes, inspired by Wilson’s Southern California roots. Using the title track, a 1949 composition that was a hit for Louis Armstrong, as a recurring motif, Wilson and his collaborators create richly arranged and orchestrated pop songs as well as four poetic spoken-word narratives that give the album a trippy, avant edge. There’s a stage-worthy veneer to the entire project as well as some frank autobiographical allusions — “At 25 I turned out the light/’Cause I couldn’t handle the glare in my tired eyes,” Wilson sings at one point.
Ice Cube, “Raw Footage”There’s little sign here that Ice Cube’s family film work has diluted the sociopolitical fury he first vented on N.W.A.’s 1988 breakthrough, “Straight Outta Compton.” Throughout “Raw Footage,” Cube holds forth in vivid detail against politicians, wack MCs and pundits who blame his brand of gangsta rap for creating inner-city trouble (instead of blaming inner-city trouble for inspiring gangsta rap). Unfortunately, there is reason to suspect that middle age (or material comfort) has dulled the sharp edges of Cube’s wordplay. “Now what this got to do with the price of tea in China?” he asks in “Here He Come,” “Nothing, mother----er, just don’t act like a vagina.” Yikes. Occasional clunkers aside, the impassioned delivery and stripped-down G-funk grooves are still more potent than plenty of efforts by rappers half Cube’s age. He just might hire an editor next time.
Underoath, “Lost in the Sound of Separation”Unrelenting and often harrowing, Underoath’s newest is filled with the band’s characteristic bone-crunching riffs and a reduced role from drummer/vocalist Aaron Gillespie, allowing frontman Spencer Chamberlain’s guttural howls to take command. Throughout its 41 minutes, “Lost in the Sound of Separation” occasionally teeters on the precipice of unfamiliar territory. Chamberlain trades his screams for sung parts on “Too Bright to See, Too Loud to Hear,” and the sparse, electronic-based closer “Desolate Earth: The End Is Here” is largely instrumental except for a few lines. With “Separation,” it’s clear that the band has not turned the genre on its head. Even so, Underoath has made definitive strides at progression without abandoning its muscular, broad-shouldered hardcore.
GZA, “Pro Tools”Even in this post-Wu-glory-days era, GZA remains easily and unfairly overshadowed. He doesn’t have the odd indie appeal of Ghostface, the smoked-up rasp of Method Man or the RZA’s Hollywood resume. But he does have five solo records to his credit now, and a purpose: “All I need is a beat,” he opens on “Alphabets,” and commences three minutes of liquid rhymes that spray out without any detectable effort. “Pro Tools” is the opposite of flashy. You could count the number of hooks on one hand and most tracks clock in at the three-minute mark, ostensibly to let GZA inhale occasionally. But it’s worth a listen to hear what sneaky, suspicious, image-heavy tricks still emerge from his notebook (particularly on the war-charged “Colombia Ties” — “A president’s madness responsible for losses/political forces/land littered with corpses”).