Hear This: Cam'ron, Musiq Soulchild and Beastie Boys

It's been a banner year for hip-hop and neo-soul veterans. The Root's roundup highlights spring's best offerings.

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Gunz n' Butta by Cam'ron and Vado

From Raekwon to Pharoahe Monch and more, this spring has been a special one for hip-hop veterans. It almost reminds me of the autumn of 1998 with its embarrassment of hip-hop riches. Into this mix comes Cam'ron and his protégé Vado, with their album Gunz n' Butta (a phrase you may vaguely remember from 10th-grade social studies class). The album features many infectious hard-core party records, some of which have been burning up New York radios and clubs for some time, such as "Speakin in Tungs," "We All Up in Here" and "Hey Mumma" (the album includes instrumentals of the last two of these crazy bangers), and the more recent hit "Stop It 5."

The intense production, mostly the handiwork of Araab Muzik, is reminiscent of the music that used to rock clubs like the Tunnel and Speed in the early to mid-2000s, when Cam'ron and the Dip Set helped to make Speed into New York's hottest hip-hop venue. Gunz n' Butta is musically and poetically energetic; you could work out to it from start to finish. There is no soul-searching, no introspective track, no funny skits, no "Dear Mama" track. There's one romantic track ("Be With Me"), but it has one of the most ferocious beats I've heard in a while. Be warned: The album also features a strong dose of male chauvinism.

Cam has ushered along the careers of talented rappers such as Juelz Santana and Jim Jones, but it remains to be seen if Vado's career will reach the level attained by Cam's other protégés. Vado is a skilled but straightforward "monologic" rapper with little humor, one voice and one setting, whereas Cam, since his debut circa 1994, has been one of the most dynamic, lyrical, hilarious, ironic and innovative and diverse rappers to ever step in the booth. Vado has potential, but Cam carries the team. Also, Vado should vet his metaphors more carefully. In one chorus he compares himself to former 'N Sync manager Lou Pearlman, who has been disgraced on various fronts.

My favorite track is "F***-a-Freestyle" (produced by Antonio Jimenez), which is essentially two clever, bravado-dense freestyle verses over a slow and powerfully thumping piano-laced track. If there were still such a thing as music made for Jeeps (as they used to do in the early '90s) and driving around on a summer day, this would be it!

Another track that I predict will be a hit is the catchy "Lights, Camera, Action." To give you a sense of what it sounds like, here is Cam's intro: "Damn Araab. This that early '80s joint right here ... This remind me of that R. Kelly two-step joint right here. My uncle might do the James Brown slide off this joint right here." I might do the James Brown slide off the whole album.

Musiqinthemagiq by Musiq Soulchild

Speaking of the old school, the ever consistent Musiq Soulchild's new album, Musiqinthemagiq, is a tribute to many eras and influences without veering into the realms of pure nostalgia or museum-ish re-creation. Fans of Musiq Soulchild will find much to appreciate with this at once lush and precise production, which honestly does not contain one bad song.

Back in 2001, Musiq made his debut as a crooner of mature, solid, somewhat emo R&B. I have a heretical confession to make: I'm not that interested in or enthusiastic about songs concerning relationships. Still, Musiq manages to catch my attention with lines like this in "Dowehaveto": "You just love the drama, cause you think it makes us real/all it do is cause us problems and only keeps me from showing you how I feel."

Musiq's voice is suberb here, and his lyrics (mostly) escape inanity. As for the sound of the music itself, his cheerful, radio- and party-ready single "Anything" (featuring the always entertaining Swizz Beatz) samples the remix (which is the party standard) to Central Line's "Walking Into Sunshine" (famously sampled by Marly Marl for the remix to LL Cool J's "Jinglin' Baby"). Still, here it manages to sound fresh and original; it's not just fishing for an easy hit.