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After several years of performing as part of the Berlin underground rap groups Die Sekte, A.i.d.S., and Royal TS, Sido made his full-length solo album debut with Maske, a provocative album that established him as one of Germany's most fascinating rappers. The title track sums up the themes of the album well -- "geld, sex, gewalt, und drogen" (money, sex, violence, and drugs) -- and Sido indeed aims to "schock die welt" (shock the world). The humor and wit that pervade Maske are a relief, though, helping make the album a darkly entertaining listen rather than a truly frightening one. Like Eminem, Sido is technically gifted as a rapper, creative in a dark and twisted way, and blessed with pop sensibilities. "Endlich Wochenende" -- a humorous tale of a drug-fueled weekend filled with mishaps -- is exactly the type of song that could have been written for The Slim Shady LP (1999). Unlike Slim Shady-era Eminem, however, Sido has a socially conscious side that overshadows his humorous side on relatively serious songs such as "Mein Block," "3 Leben," and "Knast." These more serious songs, especially "Mein Block," are informed by Sido's upbringing in Märkisches Viertel, an impoverished locality in Berlin characterized by its high-rise social projects. In addition to "Mein Block" -- which was Sido's commercial breakthrough hit, peaking at number 13 on the German singles chart and driving Maske into the Top Five -- album highlights include "Aus'm Weg," "Steig Ein," "Maske," "Mama Ist Stolz," "Endlich Wochenende," and "Fuffies im Club." With the exception of "Fuffies im Club," all of these highlights are sequenced early, and indeed, the first half of Maske is very impressive. Beginning with "3 Leben," roughly the halfway point of the album, Sido begins collaborating with a cast of guest rappers, most of whom are affiliated with his label, Aggro Berlin. These collaborations vary in quality, yet at least they're sequenced late, so the lesser tracks are easily overlooked. The productions of Maske -- split fairly evenly between Roe Beardie (aka Roman Prelowski) and Sido, with a couple credited to Beathoavenz and one to B-Tight -- are worth noting, as they're generally imposing and a good match for the lyrical content.

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