Ursula Rucker

Ursula Rucker has singlehandedly introduced quality poetry and spoken word to the electronic music community through her collaborations with 4 Hero, King Britt, and Jazzanova. Judging by the top performances she coaxes out of these artists as well as the Roots and Little Louie Vega on her new album, Silver or Lead, it's clear that she's a muse and inspiration to many.

Rucker's sophomore effort is as exciting and thought-provoking as her 2001 debut, Supa Sista, and both should stand for a long time to come as eloquent expressions of a strong single black mother living in urban America (or, in Rucker's case, Philadelphia). The self-explanatory "Lonely Can Be Sweet" debunks the media image that all such women are simply waiting to exhale. In the heady wah-wah guitar-led "Q & A," she asks, "What's your holy trinity? Power, money, sex. Who's your worst enemy? Me." On "Untitled Flow" she spits, "Don't underestimate me because I do poetry," as producer King Britt matches her anger with urgent keyboard chord stabs. In a continuation of a prominent theme from her debut, she criticizes the contrived thuggery of commercial hip-hop artists by deflating their egos. "Take that fake identity back to the store and get a refund," she says derisively. Use your money to pick this up instead.

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Tamara Palmer