Fantastic Voyage Through Urban Radio

Derivative, but good derivative.

Attention major record labels: If you ever had the chance to offer

Coolio an A&R job in your "urban" division but decided he just couldn't

be taken seriously, take a listen to Coolio's Crowbar Records Presents

... and be prepared to weep at your missed opportunity. While there

isn't too much on this collection that smacks of the Next Big Thing, it

does pack 12 potential hits out of 13 attempts. Considering the average

record company's hit to miss ratio, Coolio proves himself a capable

steward of his label.

At first listen, Coolio's Crowbar Records Presents ... sounds

like a parlor game in the making, namely: Guess The Artist This Sounds

Exactly Like. Modern R&B group Dyverse Society, for example,

offer the very Ginuwine featuring Total-esqe "True Love," female rap

trio KUR N'C expertly mimic Da Brat on "Every Time I Turn Around" (RealAudio excerpt),

Big Blue tackle N' Sync's saccharine-lite R&B and hip-hop blend on "Some

Girls" and "Tell Me," and Heather Marie does the Des'ree/ Mary J. Blige

hip-hop soul thing on "Real Love." I won't ruin the rest of the game by

giving away all the answers, but be assured that every track on

this album sounds to varying degrees like someone else.

That said, it is important to note that the bulk of the album's tracks

sound like great tracks by other artists. Of special note is Da

Wyld Kingdom featuring Rukus and Mr. Moody's "Lyrical Bump and Grind" (RealAudio excerpt),

a bouncy De La Soul-like song that pushes the sampling of the adult

contemporary music envelope by incorporating some shagadelic easy

listening loops from Hungarian jazz-folk guitarist Gabor Szabo. For good

or for evil, Esquivel loops are next — mark my words.

Other highlights include Dyverse Society's R&B version of Shania Twain's

"You're Still The One" (RealAudio excerpt),

which adds some harp-like instrumentation and a bit more rhythm; Rukus'

body-movin' "Tight"; Midnight Suns' jazz-funk

song "Can U Feel It"; and Coolio's radio-ready "Can You Dig It."

Krazy Khrome's "Footprints," which I had to check against the liner

notes three times to make sure it wasn't a Mystikal song, is the album's

only true miss. Not only does it sound exactly like a Mystikal track, it

also betrays the rest of the album by sounding like a particularly

bad Mystikal track. Mystikal's gruff-voiced, Southern-preacher

ranting is barely rapping as it is — why anyone would want to emulate

his style is a mystery.

Twelve direct hits out of 13 tries ain't too shabby. If Coolio and Co.

keep this up and contribute some original sounds, they may end up being

players to contend with.