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Various Artists
Major Playaz
Thro Down

George Williams earned his spurs writing and producing for ConFunkShun. Now he has stepped forward as the proprietor of Thro Down Records and the producer for budding hip-hop stars. Major Playaz showcases Williams (under the alias PGR) as much as the underground rap pack he's collected for the date. As PGR, Williams not only produces all of the beats over which these rhymers flow, but also supplies the choruses. Though ostensibly "dis-claiming" the thug life, more than a few of the crews here hustle dollars by any means necessary. In fact, PGR's "In Game We Trust" embraces the hoodie mentality. The most promising voices here are those of Tino T. (whose "Around the Bay" boasts an insistent pulse and nice verbal flow) and the three-tongued tandem of Mr. Alezay, Shank and Young Rome. Appearing on several cuts are members of the R&B group Kynship. Their tuneful singing adds a smooth feel to what would otherwise be another hard guys-only affair. (Nicky Baxter)

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The Gravediggaz
The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel
Gee Street

If hip-hop is dead, the Gravediggaz are here to exhume its wormy carcass and play Quincy. Like a good manga book, The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel sets listeners off on surreal and frightening quests. The RZA, Fruitkwan, Poetic and Prince Paul battle personal dungeons and dragons. Though much of the content focuses on braggadocio ("Dangerous Minds," "Elimination Process"), the Gravediggaz do shed a tear in the line of fire. They mourn over graves ("Never Gonna Come Back") and ponder mortality ("Repentance Day," "Night the Earth Cried"). Balance these poetics with RZA's bone-rattling midtempo sonics and Prince Paul's chain-yanking, and the album makes for a grisly, ghastly trip--a must for Wu fans. (Todd S. Inoue)

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Big Heifer
Your Gravity
Hat Factory

Big Heifer is something of a disappointment, largely because of the group's profound lack of originality. Sonic Youth and legions of other facsimiles have done the ennui-choked whine and buzz-boy guitar antiheroics to death. Barbara Johnson's vocals are by turns coy ("Never's Not Forever") and postmodern vulnerable ("Birds Fly Away"). She is more interesting in her duets with singer/guitarist Nichols. "Movie on a Trailways" is one such instance; against a backwash of clattering, almost atonal guitar, the two simper on low. Big Heifer's lyrics, meanwhile, are more abstruse than artful, mostly addressing emotional distance and alterna-gen romance (or the lack thereof). (NB)

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Giftwrapped SaturdayS

Enertia does one heck of a Pearl Jam impersonation. Its version sounds suspiciously like Matchbox 20. Even so, Giftwrapped Saturday's melodic, guitar-driven sound sparkles with some fresh, invigorating rhythms, while the conversational lyrics have a "scrawled-on-a-napkin" quality. With themes of heartbreak, compassion and pensive despair, these songs display an appealing depth of heartfelt emotion. Eric Victorino's Vedder-like vocal prowess, however, does little to make the band stand out. Enertia's got talent and Giftwrapped Saturday is a good listen, but don't expect too much just yet. If Victorino burns his "How to sound like Eddie" manual, Enertia could gain momentum. (Sarah Quelland)

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From the Oct. 9-15, 1997 issue of Metro.

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