Jay Z Unplugged

The only thing more surprising than the fact that Jay-Z is rocking a Che Guevera shirt on the cover is that this "unplugged" project, an intriguing collaboration with the Roots, works so well. After all, Jay-Z is a notoriously lacklustre stage performer, while the dopeness of the Roots' live stage show has been extensively documented. But the lounge setting seems to work well for Jigga and his laidback demeanour as he trots out a set heavily tipped to last year's The Blueprint and bite-size chunks of his biggest hits. While Jay-Z relaxes, the Roots grab the spotlight. Their interpretation of the much discussed Mobb Deep/Nas diss track "Takeover" shows them skilfully weaving timely interpolations of Nas's "N.Y. State Of Mind" and Mobb Depp's "Shook Ones Pt.II" as Jay-Z tears into them and effortlessly slides back into the song's original foundation. Given Nas's recent heated words on a New York radio station concerning the Roots, one can determine he wasn't too thrilled. The Philly-based hip-hop crew imbue the affair with tangible soul and Jaguar Wright, who signed to their label Motive, delivers a shining vocal performance on standout "Heart Of the City" that even an appearance by Mary J. Blige can't match. The best thing about this listenable affair is that it may underline the musical proficiency of the Roots to those a little too enamoured by Jay-Z's iced-out wrists. (Universal)