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Do or Die 

D.O.D. (The Legion/Atlantic)

Now we get to see whether Kanye West's Midas touch of 2004 has carried over into the new year. So far, on his first major assignment of '05 -- helping out fellow Chi-town natives Do or Die -- the answer is yes.

West produced only a couple of ace tracks on D.O.D. , including the Teddy Pendergrass-sampling single "Higher," yet his influence is felt throughout. No ID's lovely "Be Alright" and Legendary Traxster's "If Only You Knew" only mimic the surface attributes of West's hits -- the lush R&B hooks and positive outlook -- but that's enough, as Belo, A.K., and Nard salute love and loyalty with enthusiasm, if not always memorable couplets.

All that ear candy means the stray, by-the-numbers gangsta threat ("Right Here") brings you down to earth with a thud, but "Church," a Cali-Midwest collaboration with DJ Quik, is inspired, as is "Nawty," the dancehall-infused pairing with Bounty Killer. In both cases, the guests carry the weight, as they do on much of the album, but the pragmatic hip-hop vets in Do or Die sound willing to make that tradeoff to reach the next level, and the entertaining D.O.D. should get them there.

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