Music Is My Savior (Capitol/EMI)

It sounds utterly conventional, but Shawn Mims' debut is courting plenty of controversy. That's because it teeters fascinatingly on the precipice of several hip-hop fault lines. MIMS demands that New York City regain its rap throne, yet hits a Big Apple sore spot by using southern beats and guest MCs. He speaks movingly to the backpack crowd about how music has changed his life, then angers them by boasting he could "sell a mill saying nothin' on the track."

Making a naked appeal to all hip-hop's geographic constituencies is hardly a new idea (Cleveland's Ray Cash did it last year on "Bumpin' My Music"), but MIMS' No. 1 "This Is Why I'm Hot" embodies all his intriguing contradictions. It embodies them so well, in fact, that the rest of the album -- which sports the catchy hooks and lackadaisical verses common to latter-day N.Y.C. rap -- suffers by comparison. But don't overlook "Doctor, Doctor," which suggest a better future for MIMS -- and for hip-hop. "Doc hold up/I'm just scratching the surface," he implores. Perhaps -- but next time he's gotta scratch a little harder.

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