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NOTORIOUS B.I.G. ``Born Again'' (Bad Boy/Arista, 1` stars)
Behold a new kind of gangsta crime: The latest product from Sean "Puffy" Combs' Bad Boy operation promises more rarities from the mind of the surprisingly prolific late rapper Chris Wallace, alias the Notorious B.I.G. What it actually delivers: A collection of studio droppings and leftovers, assorted uninteresting hip-hop moments polished up with new production and weepy we-miss-you sentiments.
The confused and brazenly cash-minded ``Born Again'' amounts to an all-star eulogy, with the eulogized popping up to show folks how it's done every now and then. Starting with unfinished tracks, discarded bits of salacious fantasy (the explicit "Big Booty Hoes"), and fully produced pieces that never saw the light, Combs gathers a variety of big names (Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Too Short, Redman and Method Man, K-Ci & Jo-Jo, and Nas) to flesh out the tidbits with their own Biggie-style raps. Some of the musical touches, such as the menacing horror-film soundtrack of "Dangerous MCs," are interesting, but when it comes to the rapping, the results are as disastrous as they could be.
Not only do many of these folks treat their cameos as coming-attractions previews (Lil' Kim even announces that she "did you hoes a favor when I pushed my album back"), but their most inspired moments seem desperately dim when compared with the casual and cutting spontaneity of the late star _ who is nowhere near his best here.
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GUNS N' ROSES ``Live Era '87-'93'' (Geffen, 3 stars)
"Yesterday got nothing for me," Axl Rose insists in a buzzsaw wail on "Yesterdays," one of several live tracks that build to majestic climaxes on this only slightly bloated in-concert double disc. Yesterday has something for us, though: ``Live Era '87-'93'' is a reminder that, back when grungy distortion was still rising and before hard rock and hip-hop merged, there remained one last sometimes-great Stonesy glam-metal band dedicated to the noble tradition of rock 'n' roll self-destruction.
Before going down in flames, Guns N' Roses was all about cautionary, thrilling tales of innocence lost ("Move to the City," "Welcome to the Jungle"), dancing with the dark side ("Mr. Brownstone," "Used to Love Her"), and occasional outbreaks of morning-after refinement ("Patience," "Sweet Child O' Mine"). Chances are slim that Rose will get himself together and return to rock the masses in the future, but this intelligently compiled package neatly encapsulates the glory of his yesterdays.
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PAPA M ``Live From a Shark Cage'' (Drag City, 3 stars)
It's the last Sunday of the 1900s and, really, what's left …