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Ugly Duckling 

Taste the Secret (Emperor Norton)

These three dorky white kids from Snoop's old 'hood don't just acknowledge their utter lack of street cred; they wear it like a paper hat, creating a theme album not about guns or dope, but about . . . fast food? Specifically, the album centers on Meat Shake, the fictional Long Beach blended-dinner joint where the members claim to have worked in their adolescence. Songs and faux jingles mix with man-on-the-street testimonials ("Meat to the shizzake!") and running skits; but the album's real highlight isn't the comedy -- it's the crate-digging talent of DJ Einstein, which sustains Cooper and Dustin, even when they cough out an occasional talent-show hook.

Yes, this is a silly album -- no surprise there. But Ugly Duckling's good-natured breeziness has always been its greatest strength. Fact is, the trio raps about pop-culture piffle as well as anyone ever has, with clever, genial, funny rhymes wrapped in clever, genial, old-school beats and samples. Think Native Tongues as interpreted by Eugene Levy.

More by Dan Reines

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