Album: Carmen

Various Artists, Original Soundtrack, Columbia
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Bizet's opera Carmen ­ or at least, its narrative framework ­ has proven an enduring and infinitely adaptable tale, having been transposed to the world of flamenco dancers in Carlos Saura's celebrated movie, and now presented as a half-hour "hip hopera" for the MTV generation. Its themes of ambition, morality and mortality certainly fit neatly into the hip hop world view ­ as Da Brat explains in the introduction, it's basically "a tragic tale of a girl trying to capture the gold". As Carmen herself, Beyoncé, of Destiny's Child, brings plenty to the project, not least a remix of "Survivor", whose pseudo-classical style is liberally adapted throughout the album by the producer Kip Collins. Mekhi Phifer is equally good as the cop attracted to Carmen, while Mos Def brings an authentically jaded manner to the role of Phifer's partner. Contributions from Casey Lee and Royce Da 5'9" are less securely woven into the plot, but the inventive Rah Digga is probably the album's MVP, contributing a slice-of-streetlife diary from "the real ghetto superstar" in her "What We Gonna Do Now", and offering tight rap counterpoint on several other tracks. Things rush a bit to the denouement, when Da Brat supplies the epilogue: "So that's the story, no life no more, just lost, caught up in between the negative and the positive force... Who'll take the responsibility when the guns go off?". No time for sentiment in the tough world of hip-hopera, clearly.