By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
8. Beans, Shock City Maverick(Warp). After probing hip-hop's boundaries for weaknesses in the Anti-pop Consortium, Beans crafted his ultimate bait and switch. Familiarly retro yet shockingly futuristic, the spare, gleaming electro-beats and jagged rhymes of Shock City Maverick offer old-school hip-hop viewed through a broken funhouse mirror...held to your throat.
9. 213, The Hard Way (TVT). Stripped of danger and ambition, Uncle Snoop was headed toward a permanent upper-left-corner residency on Hollywood Squares before hooking up with his old bandmates Warren G and Nate Dogg. Surrounded once again by luscious, lazy G-Funk, Snoop reclaimed the mantle of Tha Doggfather for the first time in years, creating an unexpectedly great set -- comparable to catching an awesome high from the scrapings of an old bong.
10. Thavius Beck, Decomposition (Mush). The title, the dead-insect cover art, the gloomy and ironic concepts ("Amongst the Shadows, "Music Will Be the Death of Us All), the ambient, mostly instrumental tracks -- Decomposition plays like an homage to the '90s angst of Massive Attack. And considered as such, it's a true blast from the past, one that blows open a black hole allowing you access to trip-hop's disorienting dimensions once again. God Save the Scene