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Northern State 

All City (Columbia)

The first female answer to the Beastie Boys was the Big Apple quartet Luscious Jackson, which released one great EP on the Beasties' own label and then pursued an erratic career throughout the '90s before disintegrating. Their place has presumably been taken now by Northern State, another crew of smart, sassy, and proudly Y-chromosomeless New Yorkers, but the trio's big-label debut is far more erratic than great. Even taking into account the group's penchant for simple and direct old-school hip-hop, some of the rhymes here are elementary enough to make you wonder if these white girls aren't an affirmative-action hire by Columbia.

Still, the album does have personality (much of it supplied by the feisty Hesta Prynn) and production (with tracks contributed by legends Pete Rock and Muggs) to recommend it, and you can't fault the fella-friendly feminism of "Girl for All Seasons" or the R&B rump-shaker "Summer Never Ends," an ode to beating the heat, N.Y.C. style. Yet while no one was expecting a Paul(a)'s Boutique, Beasties comparisons aren't doing Northern State any favors at this early stage: The hopefully-titled All City would have trouble cracking hip-hop's JV team.

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