Rihanna - Rated R (J-Graded D+)
If the last album was a "good girl gone bad" then this album is "bad girl gone even worse." Now musically, this album is decent, full of top-notch production and even has a pretty consistent theme as far as sound goes... and there's my problem. The theme is dark. The lyrics are dark (and profanity-laced). The imagery is dark. Not that this album doesn't have its moments of beautiful honesty ("Stupid In Love" and "Fire Bomb" for example).
I'm just missing the light of the sun-kissed island girl we met with "Pon De Replay" or even the slightly edgier fun of "Umbrella". But this Rihanna... this chick is just acting out.
Shakira - She Wolf (J-Graded B-)
Shakira takes a bold step out of the latin-pop world into urban-pop market. Collaborations with Lil Wayne and Timbaland make it apparent that Shakira's inner la loba likes modern hip-hop/R&B. While it might seem like she's pandering to black folks, it's not that way at all. Shaki's witty lyrical content is still on full display, especially on songs like the titular track and "Men In This Town". This is well-crafted pop album that attempts to bring Shakira up to speed with what the other pop/R&B divas are doing, while not losing what makes her unique, and she succeeds.
Jay Sean - All Or Nothing (J-Graded D)
British-Indian R&B star Jay Sean has already conquered the music charts in various countries throughout Europe and Asia, and now he's set his sights on the U.S. market. Through a partnership with Cash Money Records (of all labels), he releases his Stateside debut All or Nothing. It's obvious from the material (and his image) that he's competing with the Usher's and Ne-Yo's of the world. Does he succeed? Not entirely. Yes, he has a smooth voice and cool moves, but the shallow and redundant lyrical content send this ride into Dullsville quickly. If it's all or nothing, Jay, I may have to opt for nothing... well, can I just download "Down"?
Boyz II Men - Love (J-Graded - B-)
Boyz II Men are the kings of harmony. Even minus their resident bass singer Michael McCrary, the other three members can sing the mess out of most any song. While the well-chosen range of songs spans genres and eras, the tendency to over-sing (Wanya, I'm talking to you) and unnecessarily rearrange takes the soul out of what could have been some nice moments. Overall, it's still a solid, romantic listen and worth picking up.
Lady Gaga - The Fame Monster (GUEST REVIEWED BY TWYLA M.)