Pablo couples upbeat tunes with ballads

Grade: B-

Though Jive Records is home to some of the biggest pop acts in history, its hip-hop arms are way too short to box with heavyweights like Def Jam, Priority and Columbia. Jive has less rappers than Wu-Tang Clan, and so the recently signed Petey Pablo is its new bellwether, sent to reintroduce Jive to the hip, urban crowd.

"I'm the one that's gonna carry Jive past N'SYNC status," Petey predicts on "Ya'll Ain't Ready." Yeah, right. But his debut single "Raise Up" netted Jive its first No. 1 Billboard Rap Single in over a year and his accompanying album, "Diary of a Sinner: 1st Entry," is worthy and thorough.

And fun. After spending six years behind bars, Pablo seems more optimistic and broadminded than others in his situation. "Petey Pablo," the album opener, is a lyrical entanglement of off-kilter wordplay and personal philosophies set off by gritty bass blasts. "Funhouse," produced by Petey Pablo himself, twists a medley of circus sounds around a wild clap track.

Pablo stays detached from music industry materialism, and spends a good deal of "Diary..." reproaching those who aren't. "Tired of hearin' 'bout all this cash and most of you broke, can't even give 'em a decent show," he says on "Ya'll Ain't Ready."

"Do Dat" echoes what hip-hop addicts have been pining for since the music's late 90s commercial boom: "No more mother****ers soundin' like Mobb Deep, soundin' like Jay-Z, soundin' like B.I.G., we don't need no more please!"

Sprinkled throughout "Diary..." are several instances of uninspired beats, rhymes and occasionally both. "Didn't I," a long series of rhetorical questions, is structured too similarly to Juvenile's "Ha" not to draw comparisons. Elsewhere, "La Di Da Da Da" plods along and "Live Debaco" should be on a cutting room floor somewhere. But the album's emotion and storytelling elements, shown on songs like "Fool For Love" and the title track, more than make up for it.

Probably the most pleasing element of "Diary..." is its balance. Petey bares his soul towards the end of the album ("Truth About Me," "Diary of a Sinner," "My Testimony"), and stays keen and accessible while doing it. He keeps the skits to a minimum. Every uptempo song is matched by a slower, more lyrically deep one and, though he isn't an especially great lyricist, his charisma carries the album to a success.

While new rappers like Fabolous and Lil' Zane seemed to take their careers for granted on their respective debuts, Petey is as engaged and zealous as a college student interning at MTV. He won't sell 10 million plus like N'SYNC, but he won't sell out either, and that means a lot these days.


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