Fri. The shelf life for pop stars in general and hip-hop stars in particular can be brutally short. Often with good reason, but LL Cool J is an exception. He's been going strong for almost 20 years and it's not a fluke. He's a charismatic, solid performer. Hear him at Dream (202-636-9030). . . . At his best, Marshall Crenshaw pens crisp pop songs that are dazzlingly pure. Fortunately for fans, he is also fairly consistent, coming close to that standard more often than not. He's at the Rams Head Tavern (410-268-5111) in Annapolis Friday and Saturday. Opening for him is Ben Arnold, who has performed in this area recently with the group 4 Way Street, but he also has won acclaim for his solo work.

Sat. Method Man brings his distinctive rapping style to Merriweather Post Pavilion (410-547-7328). Considering his solo career, his work with the Wu-Tang Clan and his acting roles, maybe he should switch to Busy Man. . . . There's also a nice night of hip-hop at the 9:30 club (202-393-0930) with Mr. Cheeks ("Lights Camera Action"), Pete Rock (see the Spotlight on Page 6 for more on him) and Truth Hurts. . . . A guilty pleasure of mine, the stoner rock of Monster Magnet is at Jaxx (703-569-5940).

Weds. Two of Austin's more popular exports, the Gourds and Reckless Kelly, are at the Birchmere (703-549-7500) having a rollicking good time. (Or catch them at the Rams Head, 410-268-5111, on Tuesday night.)

Thurs. Long Beach Short Bus, featuring members from Sublime and Long Beach Dub Allstars, is at the Recher Theatre (410-337-7178) playing punky, reggae-flavored rock. . . . Smooth jazz saxophonist Jimmy Sommers is at Zanzibar on the Waterfront (202-554-9100). By the way, Sommers has been mentioned by People magazine as one of America's "Top 50 Eligible Bachelors" and played a small role (Marcus) on the soap "The Young and the Restless." So, even if you don't like jazz, there might be a reason for some of you to enjoy the show.

-- Curt Fields