I know what you're saying: The Inlander hates rap. How wrong you are. It's not rap that we loathe, it's 50 Cent and his sawed-off, pointless lyrics and secondhand beats. His first album, Get Rich or Die Tryin', was nothing more than a stagnant reproduction of the music machine, and The Massacre is no exception. While this album's hits -- "Candy Shop" and "Disco Inferno" -- are as catchy as "In da Club," the remaining 21 tracks are repetitive, preachy and heavy-handed. When 50 tries to get serious, it's sidesplitting -- especially considering that his forced nasal ballads are about guns and bitches. A taste for your ears: "Click-ity clank. Click-ity clank / The money goes into my piggy bank." Whee! It rhymes! Filled with flows that sound more like nursery rhymes than hard-nosed knocks from the ghetto, The Massacre is generic, grade D rap. He might be bigger and badder, but you can file Fiddy alongside Hilary Duff, Lindsay Lohan and Milli Vanilli in the originality department. --Leah Sottile
Defying Gravity FOUR STARS
It's been six years since Cheryl Wheeler released a studio album, but Defying Gravity is a fine reward to everyone who's waited for a follow-up to 1999's Sylvia Hotel. This Boston-based singer-songwriter pens achingly honest love ballads and weaves marvelous stories with her songs, all delivered in her unmistakable and clear alto. In concert, Wheeler can make you laugh until you cry, then turn around and deliver a wistful, tender reminiscence that'll make the tears legitimate. Here, she demonstrates that same versatility, although without the benefit of her onstage banter, the transition from drama to humor can feel abrupt.
Wheeler's original tunes hav a wide range. The opener, "Since You've Been Gone," will pierce the heart of anyone old enough to have lost a parent, and she finishes strong with "Blessed," a simple tribute to a safe and secure childhood. In between, she has fun with the media saturation around big storms ("Here Come Floyd") and skewers the cultural intersection of cell phones and classical music ("It's the Phone"). Wheeler's lyrics are a wordsmith's dream -- "September bluffs and feints till autumn falls again" -- but it's her delivery that will touch your soul. --Ann M. Colford