Nervous Breakdown

Poc, Moc and Chip Fu of Fu-Schnickens are three young Brooklyn men who spent their childhoods watching way too much after-school and Saturday morning television. Their raps riff on karate flicks, monster movies, Batman, Bugs Bunny, sitcoms and cereal commercials -- in other words, they spout the common mythology of Americans, 29 and under. For those in the demographic cohort -- who relate, for instance, when Chip rips, "It's rabbit season / duck season / rabbit season / duck season" -- Fu's raps clear a trail into the dark recesses of memory lane.

For those who don't get it, though, the trio's second album is much more than a catalogue of the collective X-er subconscious. On record we hear three distinct personalities, all lightning-paced rappers with tremendous control of their voices. First comes Poc, the smooth and graceful one; last is Moc, a hard and solid rhymer. And contributing the mad flow in between is Chip, who percolates and wheezes like a highly caffeinated coffee pot, hiccups and coughs like a drunk with a chest cold, and all the while busts lyrics as furiously non-stop and involuntary as a sprinter gasping for breath. He's an original, hear-it-to-believe-it rapper, and never anything less than hilarious fun.

Nervous Breakdown, clocking in at less than 44 minutes and offering only nine new tunes (plus a remix of "What's Up Doc?" featuring Shaquille O'Neal), is an unfortunately slim workout. It is, though, a potent taste of how hip-hop continues to stretch when rappers flex bigger muscles.

-- Roni Sarig

The Chieftains
The Long Black Veil
RCA Victor

Thirty-one years and 31 albums spent charting the gorgeous musical landscape of Ireland have made the Chieftains by far Ireland's most recognized and qualified ambassadors of Celtic sound and rhythm. They've toured China, played for the Pope, filled symphony halls across the globe and earned three Grammys on their way. But this year, the traditional six-piece has its collective eye on something bigger: the pop charts. Though they've worked in the past with names such as Roger Daltrey, Nanci Griffith and Willie Nelson, on The Long Black Veil the Chieftains graduate to A-list guest stars with appearances by Sting, the Rolling Stones and, yes, even Tom Jones.

It's a testimony to the considerable talents and character of the Chieftains that none of the celebrity personalities or egos upstages the band on record. Rather, the musicians always stay in control, and their instruments remain at the center of the songs. So while Mick Jagger delivers a stirring reading of the title song, it's the pipes and fiddles that transform the country standard into deep Gaelic soul music. Turns by Marianne Faithfull, Ry Cooder, Mark Knopfler, Sinead O'Connor and old Chieftain buddy Van Morrison (doing his own "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?") come off competently if predictably, but breathing life into familiar, mostly traditional tunes like "The Lily of the West" and "The Foggy Dew" is ultimately the province of band leader/tin whistler Paddy Moloney and his more-than-competent mates.

-- Roni Sarig

Common Sense

Just as with MOR rock, the question at the heart of MOR hip-hop is not "How well do the elements work to form the whole?" but rather "How well does the whole work within the form?" Rap middle-roaders like Nas and Jeru the Damaja generally obtain mad props -- not by breaking rules, but by doing the same old thing better than anyone else. Core hip-hop heads love this stuff because it requires an intimate knowledge of the culture and that elusive "realness"; outsiders uninterested in rap's subtleties shrug it off because, well, it's stylistically unadventurous.

Common Sense, representing Chicago and the rest of the under-represented Midwest, delivers the equivalent of a letter-high fastball (remember baseball?) on Resurrection, the follow-up to 1992's Can I Borrow A Dollar?. Too honest to play mean and too street to be alternative, rapper Rashied Lynn instead draws his alter-ego, Common Sense, as someone very close to himself: a smart, young urban, raised and molded by hip-hop. It's this sensibility on Resurrection that gives birth to a bittersweet anthem like "Used To Love H.E.R.," an extended conceit that casts hip-hop itself as EveryRapper's lost love: "I met this girl when I was ten years old / And what I loved the most was she had so much soul."

On the whole, though, Com's rhymes and the familiar light-jazz backing tracks are rarely spectacular -- at least not enough to dent the walls of the form. But MOR, like baseball, has always been a game of inches, so chances are good the kid will squeeze by on his attitude, even if his rap doesn't quite live up.

-- Roni Sarig


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