December 29, 2003 12:00 PM

Most Valuable Players

OutKast, Alicia Keys and Annie Lennox rocked our speakerboxxx

Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

OutKast

The outright album of the year is a double-dope extravaganza, with Big Boi serving up Speakerboxxx’s southern-fried rap and Dre’s Princely funk taking The Love Below to new hip-hop heights.

Surrender to Love

Kindred the Family Soul

The husband-and-wife duo of Fatin Dantzler and Aja Graydon make a perfect musical marriage on a rich, robust debut steeped in ’70s soul and loving lyrics inspired by their relationship.

Stumble into Grace

Emmylou Harris

Nothing the elegant Harris does seems stumbled into. If the country-folk doyenne is indeed in a state of grace, she has clearly earned it with such warm, uncompromising and profoundly musical albums as this eclectic collection.

The Diary of Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys

The follow-up to 2001’s Grammy-sweeping Songs in A Minor leaves no doubt about this woman’s worth. Evoking everyone from Aretha to Marvin to Gladys, 23-year-old Keys shows that she may someday take her own place among R&B’s all-time greats.

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Damien Rice

On his first CD, this Irishman stands out from a rash of sensitive male singer-songwriters (John Mayer, Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz, et al) with his bleak but oh-so-beautiful alt-folk. The disc, which won the prestigious Shortlist Music Prize for emerging artists, also gets our vote for Best Use of Cello in a Pop Album.

Bare

Annie Lennox

The ex-Eurythmic lays Bare the pain from the breakup of her 12-year marriage to Israeli filmmaker Uri Fruchtmann on a sublime set full of naked emotion. Being bitter never sounded so sweet.

The Black Album

Jay-Z

If his rap career is truly fading to black with his ninth disc, as Jay-Z claims, then Beyoncé’s beau goes out with a bang on a style-hopping showcase that once again has fans gettin’ Jigga wit it.

Get Rich or Die Tryin’

50 Cent

With both Dr. Dre and Eminem bankrolling his major-label debut, 50 Cent steps up to the mike and proves he is much more than chump change. The Queens rapper’s gangsta grooves and thug-next-door delivery make for a killer combo.

Life for Rent

Dido

Blending warm folk-pop with cool trip-hop beats, Britain’s Dido demonstrates that the success of her 4 million-selling debut, 1999’s No Angel, was no fluke. The chick disc of the year.

Here I Am: Isley Meets Bacharach

Ronald Isley and Burt Bacharach

The Isley Brothers frontman pours his silky falsetto into sterling renditions of Bacharach-composed classics from the ’60s, resulting in 2003’s best CD for getting in between the sheets.

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