A look at acts breaking at radio and retail and entering Billboard charts. This week: Kinky and Big & Rich.

GETTING KINKY: With Spanish-flavored hip-hop beats colliding with jazz percussion, Mexican five-piece Kinky is dripping with rhythmic propulsion. On top of the groove lies a non-stop parade of instrumentation, from fuzzed-out guitars and video game keyboards to techno blips and salsa-infused accordions, creating a border-busting celebration of sound.

The band mixes styles so ambitiously and energetically that Kinky has become regarded as one of the more exciting live acts in music today. Famously signed after winning a battle of the bands in New York, Kinky won over critics with last year's self-titled Sonic 360/Nettwerk debut. Consistently playing throughout California, Kinky caught the ears of West Coast band Cake, which tapped the band as a support act for its Unlimited Sunshine outing last summer.

KinkyYet none of the attention added up to a hit album. Kinky's debut topped off with sales of about 31,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Hollywood, however, took notice, and Kinky's music was featured in a number of television shows, including "Six Feet Under" and "Alias." Additionally, the band was heard in advertisements for cars, cell phones and liquor. Sales may not reflect it, but over the past year, more people have been exposed to Kinky than probably any other Latin act.

So for sophomore album "Atlas," Kinky decided to more openly appeal to a crossover audience. Overall, it is a slightly calmer affair than the act's first effort, slowing down the beats to accommodate more English vocals. Cake singer John McCrea even drops by for "The Headphonist," and the sing-along pop of "Airport Feelings" and the acoustic-driven" "Not Afraid" clearly show the band is making a bid for mainstream radio play.

That's not to say Kinky is any less ambitious. "Atlas" is filled with all manner of odd rhythms, including the trip-hop like "Pos Que Se Vengan" and alley clamor of "My God is So Quiet." Elsewhere, "Presidente" mixes Spanish and English vocals over a relaxed, samba beat, which builds to a rave-worthy explosion of techno-rock.

Thus far, the bid for a wider audience is working. "Atlas" arrived last week at No. 19 on Billboard's Top Latin Albums chart, giving the act its first appearance on any of the magazine's tallies. Additionally, the album is No. 5 on the Top Electronic Albums chart.

Kinky wraps up a December tour with a Dec. 20 performance in Anaheim, Calif., and a show the following night in San Diego.


Big & RichBIG TIME: John Rich left country upstarts Lonestar after working on the group's 1997 BMG album "Crazy Nights." The pop-friendly act had seemingly primed Rich for a lucrative solo career. After all, he contributed to the band's "Coming Cryin' To Me," which reached No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks tally.

Yet the bassist/singer has been largely missing from mainstream view since stepping out on his own. A deal with BNA Records failed to produce an album.

Yet Rich became a popular attraction in Nashville, and found a new musical partner in "Big" Kenny Alphin. The two bonded over a mutual dissatisfaction with the music industry, as Alphin had seen his own solo career with Hollywood Records dissolve into nothingness.

Over the last few years, the two have built a solid reputation among country die-hards, and recently wrote a track for Martina McBride's RCA album "Martina." The ballad "She's a Butterfly" is an ode to a friend who died of cancer, and also features backing vocals from the duo. "Martina" debuted at No.1 on Billboard's Top Country Albums roundup two months ago.

Now Rich and Alphin are reaching the charts on their own. Performing under the name Big & Rich, the duo's "Wild West Show" entered Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart at No. 59. The cut is the lead single from the pair's 13-track Warner Nashville debut, "Horse of a Different Color," a release date for which has not yet been set.