Various Artists

Off the Hook

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The success of the Now series of compilations, which have responded to the decline of singles by providing radio fans with collections of near-contemporary hits, naturally has inspired imitators, and this album is one of them. Released by Sony, it is in fact a joint venture with Universal, EMI, and Zomba, and the only distinction between it and a Now disc is the more limited range of musical styles: Off the Hook is an R&B/hip-hop album. Among its 20 tracks, clocking in at over 79 minutes, are 13 songs that were still lodged in the Billboard Hot 100 and/or the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart on the day of release, although the selections date back as far as early 2001, the oldest tune being India.Arie's "Video." Only a few of these numbers were really big hits -- J-Lo featuring Ja Rule's "I'm Real" (presented here in the "Murder Remix") was a number one pop hit, while Mr. Cheeks' "Lights, Camera, Action" topped the R&B charts and Aaliyah's "More than a Woman," Mystikal's "Bouncin' Back (Bumpin' Me Against the Wall)," Glenn Lewis' "Don't You Forget It," KeKe Wyatt featuring Avant's "Nothing in This World," and Petey Pablo's "Raise Up" (heard here in the "All Cities Remix") made the R&B Top Ten. The rest, except for the non-charting "City High Anthem" by City High, placed lower in the charts, although such major stars as Jermaine Dupri, Jagged Edge, and Janet Jackson are included. The music ranges from hard-edged rap (from which the curse words have been surgically removed in the peculiar Swiss-cheese process known as the "clean edit") to creamy love ballads, giving a good sense of the sound of contemporary R&B, circa 2001-2002. Listening to Off the Hook is like hearing nearly 80 minutes' worth of an urban radio station without the commercials.

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