Yelawolf’s debut album follows a sad and predictable tempalte. (Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)


Maybe it was the stringy black mullet. Or the word “RED” tattooed on his neck. Or the fact that a white guy from sweet home Alabama could spit syllables faster than a wood chipper.

Whatever it was, it was difficult to miss Yelawolf over the past two years. Last January, “Trunk Muzik,” the Gadsden rapper’s dizzying breakout mixtape, made him the most captivating new voice in hip-hop, delivering dirt-road narratives with mean-street intensity.

It starts with the artist’s relentless pursuit of blogger attention. Then comes the record deal. After that, a year or two spent in momentum-sucking purgatory where your debut album’s release date keeps getting bumped, bumped, bumped into the future. And when the disc finally lands, it lands with a cruel splat. It’s soggy with pandering pop hooks that dull the sharp edges that got you signed in the first place.

That appears to be the case with Yelawolf’s latest, “Radioactive.” Listen closely and you can almost hear the record executives not hearing a hit. But can you blame them? When Nicki Minaj released her debut disc around this time last year, she tamped down her gonzo aggression with lovey-dovey raps and singsongy melodies. The album could have been wildly innovative. Instead, it went platinum. (Chris Richards)

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Rihanna keeps things light and fun on “Talk That Talk.” (AP Photo/Joel Ryan)

“Talk That Talk”

If Lady Gaga is an android sent from the future and Beyonce is a Sherman tank of bottomless ambition and great teeth and Britney Spears is a human vacancy sign, what is Rihanna? She could be anyone. She’s a shapeshifter to be sure, a blur of hit singles and brightly colored weaves. But what else? There isn’t another entertainer in the public eye who seems so remote, so indifferent to its gaze.

Most Rihanna albums have a theme, and “Talk” is no different. “Rated R,” the 2009 disc made after her assault by, and breakup with, Chris Brown, was a protracted revenge tale. Its conspicuously party-hearty follow up, “Loud,” was an admission that “Rated R” had taken its joyless theme too far. The impeccably assembled, 100 percent flyweight “Talk That Talk” positions Rihanna as an Everygirl in search of romance, sex and a good party.

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