By Nicki Escudero
By Amy Silverman
By Brian Palmer
By Chris Parker
By Troy Farah
By Lauren Wise
By Lauren Wise
Jamaica crashes American pop
If you've listened closely, you've heard dub and dancehall playing just around the corner from the fashionable set for, like, ever. In 2003, the background exploded in your face. The dancehall-minded, omnipresent Diwali beat -- Sean Paul, Elephant Man and Wayne Wonder all used Stephen "Lenky" Marsden's hand-clapped creation -- turned hip-hop's xenophobic castle into a global party pad. And dub, long the secret weapon of techno, returned as a foundation for the indie post-punk revival. Ironically, the finest example of dub-as-savior landed on the hottest jungle mix of the year: Soundmurderer's Wired for Sound, 60 mashed-up drum 'n' bass classics in 70 minutes, eschewing the darkness for a sensuous throb. -- P.O.
Country music reasserts its identity
After several years of abdicating to Shania Twain, Faith Hill and other pop-minded pinups, redneck country struck back. Traditionalists climbed the charts all year with hootin' and hollerin' anthems. Alan Jackson recruited Jimmy Buffett to help him make "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere" a rollicking party tune. Toby Keith, meanwhile, furthered his crusade against all anti-American baddies by letting Willie Nelson play executioner on the hill and promising to rise up against the evil forces on "Beer for My Horses." If there's any evidence that the 9/11 attacks had a tangible effect on music, this is it. -- C.O.
Parental advisory: Don't play it for your parents
"Uh-oh -- skip this track!" Parents of CD-burning tweens heard that phrase whenever little Brianna volunteered her mix CD for the family ride to the market. Why is it, then, that mom and dad never heard the entire Akineyle rap that started with the singsongy chorus "Put it in my mouth," but got to squirm through all 3 minutes and 2 seconds of Kelis' double-entendre grind fest "Milkshake," which the daughter deemed okay for adult ears? There's something odd about grown-ups having their listening experience censored by their own kids, who always, curiously, know just when to hit the fast-forward button. -- J.M.
Enjoying the video for "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself"
The White Stripes' pretty little cover of the Burt Bacharach classic "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself" wouldn't surface here if it weren't for the video. No Jack. No Meg. Just Kate Moss pole dancing (better than most strippers around town can do), filmed in black and white and directed by Lost in Translationdirector Sofia Coppola. You won't see it on MTV, but the British music tabloid New Music Express has it on its Web site at www.nme.com/news/105946.htm. -- Brendan Joel Kelley
50 Cent's "In Da Club"
Remember, everyone: He's into having sex; he's not into making love. The 50 Cent persona is well-documented -- the guy who survives multiple gunshot wounds and still struts around like a peacock, daring everyone to return fire. Eminem has balls, too, but he also has a point. This guy? Well, he just has balls, which is what makes "In Da Club" so delicious. He steps into Dr. Dre's luscious strings-and-swagger beat and squeezes it like a .357. He makes my inner alpha male feel 10 feet tall whenever I hear this song; strangely, he seems to have the same effect on 8-year-old girls. -- C.O.
Twisted Sister plays Six Flags theme parks
The "We're Not Gonna Take It" boys toned down their foul language to tour Six Flags, the family-friendly chain of amusement parks. They also proved that no one -- not even Dee Snider -- can bait an audience to pump their fists with banter like "How the fudge are ya?" and "Are you ready to rock-and-flippin'-roll?" -- S.D.
Behold the sampler hybrid revolution
Whether they were cutting up and manipulating millions of live-instrument bits inside their laptops or jamming with traditional musicians onstage, a school of instrumental producers operating in between jazz, techno, hip-hop and rock shone a light at the future. The synthesis of technology and old shit -- in Four Tet and Matmos' folktronica, Manitoba's psychedelia, Prefuse 73 and Madlib's hip-hop jazz, and Matthew Herbert's fitting a big band inside his sampler -- may have had uneven results, but it undoubtedly pointed in a direction where man and machine can co-exist -- and thrive. -- P.O.
Bubba Sparxxx's Deliverance
It's quite ironic that after practically reinventing the black-music landscape, a white hillbilly from rural Georgia would inspire the brilliant producer Timbaland's best work. Bubba Sparxxx's Deliverance is thrilling because the rapper's and producer's differences force them to carve a mutual respect into the music. Sparxxx's rhymes about his country living dazzle in their hip-hop authenticity, while Timbaland effectively invents country and western hip-hop. The producer combines his trademark spacy percussion, bass distortions and stuttering rhythms with "hee-haw" backing vocals, fiddles and, on "Jimmy Mathis," a funky and hilarious harmonica loop. -- C.O.
A New Pornographers moment: strumming Neko Case's guitar
Lazily playing broken chords on one of Neko Case's many guitars while waiting for the rest of the New Pornographers to finish a photo shoot, I almost drifted into an alternative country reverie. But the boom box blasting '70s rock in the next room wouldn't let me. Like her bandmates, Case is too restless to stick to one sound -- or one band. That's why the superb The Electric Version bursts at the seams. Bandleader Carl Newman piles on details like a hyperactive decorator, but songs like the scrumptious "The Laws Have Changed" will still pry your ass from the sofa. -- Charlie Bertsch