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Benzino 

Redemption (Elektra)

The history of rap music is filled with loudmouth characters who turn out to be their own worst enemies. Having witnessed several cinematic assassinations, Bushwick Bill's eye hanging out of its socket and Snoop Dogg's decision to give up the ganja, hip-hop fans have become notoriously difficult to shock. But Source magazine co-owner Ray Benzino has turned a few of those jaded heads. In what has to be the most shameless (and foolhardy) publicity bid of the year, Benzino has taken it upon himself to rid the world of Marshall Mathers -- yes, that Marshall Mathers, the one who outsold every other musical act last year, rap or otherwise. Even a seasoned battle MC would have a difficult time sparring with Slim Shady, but for a wannabe like Benzino, it's an exercise in sheer futility.

Not that the Boston-based MC doesn't try: "Pull Your Skirt Up" accuses Eminem of musical colonialism, claiming that his Detroit roots, pale complexion and nasal phrasing render him an inauthentic pilferer of urban culture. Unfortunately, lackluster beats and lines such as "2003 Vanilla Ice/How you play me?/If you ask me, you really ain't that nice/You overrated" don't indicate that Benzi could be a viable alternative. (Echoing his beef with Everlast from a couple of years ago, Em has already fired back with a pair of rebuttals -- "Nail in the Coffin," "The Sauce" -- that verbally obliterate his critic.)

From the outside, it might appear that Benzino has the industry in his corner: Jadakiss, Wyclef Jean, Petey Pablo, Lil' Kim and Scarface make guest appearances on Redemption, favors that certainly haven't hurt their Source coverage. But others have come forth to decry these payola tactics, blasting the venerable magazine for its negatively biased coverage of Eminem and other artists unwilling to toe the company line. Whether the magazine's credibility rating can withstand such shenanigans is anyone's guess, but Redemption suggests Benzino shouldn't permanently trade his laptop for a microphone anytime soon.

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More by Geoff Harkness

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