December 08, 2003 12:00 PM

Jay-Z

CRITIC’S CHOICE

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“They say they never really miss you till you’re dead or you’re gone.” So begins Jay-Z on “December 4th” (also his birthday), his opening salvo on what the rap star claims will be his final CD. If the son of Brooklyn is truly ready to hang up his mike at 34, after seven years and nine albums in a career that has defied the flavor-of-the-month tendencies of the genre, he goes out on top with this awesome display of his dope, deft skills. Indeed this means hip-hop artists have released the two best albums of the year (OutKast’s brilliant double disc Speakerboxxx/The Love Below being the other one). After the relative disappointment of last year’s spotty The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse, Jay-Z delivers highlight after highlight here with whatever style he attempts: the Latin jazz of the live-sounding “Encore,” the bouncy funk of the “sexy, sexy” single “Change Clothes” and the Run-D.M.C.-like rock of the instant classic “99 Problems.” Lyrically he “shows uncommon introspection on tracks like the Eminem-produced “Moment of Clarity” while boasting about his legacy on cuts such as “What More Can I Say.” But it’s not bragging when you can back it up like this.

LATIN POP

Enrique Iglesias

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Those searching for deep meaning behind the title of Iglesias’s glossy new album will be disappointed: It’s the Latin-pop heartthrob’s seventh disc (three in English, four in Spanish), and he used to wear the number 7 on his soccer jersey as a kid. There has never been anything deep about Iglesias’s musical approach, though, and while he makes no exception with 7, it is his best English-language effort to date and proof that he has mastered the art of making pop fluff. Iglesias is still no great singer but piles on the radio-ready hooks on breezy dance numbers, punchy mid-tempo tracks and romantic ballads like “Addicted.” He also brings a light rock edge to songs like “Free,” about liberating his libido.

POP/JAZZ

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