Ice Cube (Priority 57155)
On a conceptual level, Ice Cube's "Death Certificate" shows considerable promise, with half of the album (the "Death Side") devoted to showing how gang violence and promiscuity are destroying the black community, and the other half (the "Life Side") focusing on changes that could turn the situation around. Trouble is, Ice Cube's notion of a new direction too often boils down to urging that blacks stop destroying themselves and instead turn their rage toward gays, Jews, Koreans, Japanese, "white devils" and those who have sold out the black community by joining gangs or moving to the suburbs. In short, it's a message so angry, ugly and ill-considered that not even the album's eloquent backing tracks can redeem it. Send this one straight back to Compton.
Lisa Stansfield (Arista 8679)
When it comes to love songs, the melody never matters as much as the delivery -- after all, if you can't hear the emotion in a singer's voice, how can the words or music hold any meaning? That's why when Lisa Stansfield calls her new album "Real Love," it's obvious that the title is no exaggeration. Perhaps the most credibly soulful singer in Britain today, Stansfield's singing is wonderfully expressive, handling everything from the sultry slow-burn of "All Woman" to the jaunty devotion of "Make Love to Ya" with passion and aplomb. Even better, her songs are as catchy as her singing is irresistible, a combination that makes "Change," "Soul Deep" and "It's Got to Be Real" sound like smash hits from the first note.