Terror Squad 

True Story (Universal)

The first Terror Squad album was one of those superstar side projects that seemed unlikely ever to demand a sequel. Built around the core of the late Big Punisher and his mentor, Fat Joe, the collection generously, if unwisely, turned the spotlight on a quartet of unknown Big Apple rappers, whose routine thug 'n' drug tales failed to lead them to stardom. On this follow-up, however, Joe has corrected two of the debut's biggest mistakes: He recruited a more diverse lineup and takes the lion's share of the mic time himself.

The new additions -- female rapper Remy Martin and singer Tony Sunshine -- elevate True Story above the gangsta rabble. Their collaboration on the summery soul jam "Streets of New York" may be too soft for said streets, but is the disc's undisputed high point, and their playfulness leavens Joe's frequent melodramatic breast-beating. His own grimy tales, though, are at least more imaginative than those of journeyman holdovers Prospect and Armageddon. Burying their boasts behind the rich, R&B-soaked beats makes the album play more like a Fat Joe solo joint produced by Roc-A-Fella -- neither terrifying nor essential, but certainly a fleeting summer pleasure.


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