Ludacris, "Battle of the Sexes" (Def Jam)
Is there any rapper who needs the rampant vocal manipulation trend less than Ludacris? He has long been drunk on his own gleefully elastic patois, one of rap's most distinctive and ever-pleasurable voices. On "Battle of the Sexes," he directs these pleasures toward the ladies through fizzy pillow talk and respectfully tawdry club fodder. Luda's always been a lover, not a fighter, and a dip in this particular lyrical Jacuzzi is a good fit. The spooky "My Chick Bad" might be the first rap song with kind words for Tiger Woods' club-wielding wife, Elin Nordegren, with a cameo from the ever- delightful Nicki Minaj. "Hey Ho" is a go-girl ode to cheating girlfriends getting their needs met elsewhere, and "Sex Room" and "Feelin' So Sexy" are fantasias of loverman absurdity. Aside from the undeniable banger "How Low," it's hard to hear the next obvious hit on "Battle."
AUGUST BROWN, LOS ANGELES TIMES
Raheem DeVaughn, "The Love and War Masterpeace" (Jive)
For all his creamy R&B and sly, romantic attitude, DeVaughn has issues. His 2008 album "Love Behind the Melody" introduced stone-soul hippie howls into the live hip-pop vibe, with clever Gnarls Barkley-like bits for good measure. But this new CD finds the crooner embracing his political side with a sociocultural vision that's subtle and sharp and never loses track of its contagious songcraft. Bringing scholar Cornel West for between-song skits seems heavy-handed, but ultimately comes across as confident and paternal. Smooth operator DeVaughn and slippery rapper Ludacris discuss mean streets in the bouncy "Bulletproof" and negligence of all stripes in the sleek, stern "I Don't Care." DeVaughn doesn't skimp on dreamy sex and sensuality in this handsome album. But he really does save his best lines for social illing, such as in "Nobody Wins a War."
A.D. AMOROSI, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER