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Jadakiss/Lloyd Banks 

Kiss of Death (Interscope)/The Hunger for More (Interscope)

Calling Jadakiss's sophomore album Don't Believe the Hype II would be a cold but not entirely undeserved assessment. Despite his disappointing 2001 debut, most observers suspected the former LOX leader was only delaying the classic his memorable growl seemed to promise. Yet Kiss of Death isn't appreciably different from its predecessor; while it contains more strong songs, it remains unfocused and empty at its core.

Jada's continued need to be all things to everyone -- showing the West Coast love over the wobbly DJ Quik beat of "Shine," kicking it gritty, LOX-style, with Styles P on "Shootouts," and then nuzzling alongside Mariah Carey on "U Make Me Wanna" -- is little more than annoying. Another problem is his inability to ever have a bigger theme in sight, which is what keeps him from joining elite rappers like Jay-Z, Eminem, or even Kanye West. It's a shortcoming Jada tries to address on the atmospheric "Why," a list of questions that are sometimes profound, but as frequently ridiculous. Like the rest of Kiss of Death, it only gets him halfway to the greatness that's suddenly looking a lot more remote.

Devoid of such expectations, the solo bow from G-Unit's Lloyd Banks is simultaneously more pointless and more entertaining than Kiss of Death. Banks has few lyrical ideas that go beyond his song titles -- "Playboy," "I'm So Fly" -- and he's just as effective delivering hooks as verses, which isn't a compliment to his MCing. But the G-Unit assembly line has perfected the blend of street grit and chart polish swiped from Ja Rule, and the big, cartoonishly dramatic beats make the quality of Banks's rhymes largely irrelevant. Even when the varsity (Eminem, 50 Cent, and Nate Dogg) shows up on "Warrior Part 2," the insubstantial results will leave you hungry for more almost immediately -- but you can still take guilty pleasure in Banks's hip-hop junk food.

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