Various Artists: In The Beginning... There Was Rap (Virgin)

Ah, what memories. With tracks like "Fuck The Police", "Big Ole Butt!" by Sean "Puffy" Combs and "Freaky Takes" from Snoop Doggy Dogg, this album, more than most, is reminiscent of times middle America had a collective heart attack over the "moral threat" posed by hip-hop. Top contributos (Cypress Hill, Coolio) and lack of fillers make this smart, but it is as brutal as it is loveable. HHH

Air: Moon Safari (Virgin)

Spacey, ambient doodling from a duo equally informed by easy listening, chill-out techno and soundtrack-orientated pop music. The drool factor is high for instrumental "La Femme D'Argent", which comes complete with glowing basslines, bubbly synths and melodic radiance, but "Kelly, Watch The Stars" shows how they put a female vocalist to seductive use as well. HH

Chico DeBarge: Long Time No See (Universal)

The intro is Chico walking out of prison gates and greeting an old friend, which explains the title somewhat. The rest of the album sees nu-soul crooner Chico travel through the A to Z of lust in an obvious, predatory but not overly macho way ("Virgin", "Love Still Good"). His lyrical repertoire is on the limited side, but the voice has a creamy urgency of its own. HH

Erykah Badu: Live (Universal, below)

The Texan vocal supernova's debut album isn't a year old, but already she has turned it into a live album. It is both a sign that new material is probably far off and that her extraordinary live prowess needs a good airing. Her expensive style, ranging from contemporary hip-hop to jazz- skittery to old-school soul, make this outing a revelatory, stirring experience. HHH