Previewing new albums by the Wu-Tang Clan, Jay-Z, Lil' Bow Wow, Master P, Bell Bev Devoe, and more.

NOTE TO READERS: regular Hot Product updates will resume on Monday, Jan. 7, 2002.

'Iron' Men

Wu-TangRap supergroup Wu-Tang Clan is set to drop "Iron Flag," its fourth album and second in as many years, this week via Loud. The set follows close in the footsteps of last year's "The W," which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and at No. 5 on The Billboard 200. "Iron Flag" was executive produced by Ghostface Killah and group abbot RZA.

The latter says of the quick turnaround, "because it usually takes a few years in between for us to release an album, we thought we'd try something different from our norm and hit the hood with something new quicker than before. Everybody's rhymes were on point and it only took us about thirty days to make 'Iron Flag.' I believe it's some of our best work yet."

Only two guest appearances dot "Iron Flag" -- veteran R&B group the Isley Brothers helps out on "Back in the Game" and Public Enemy court jester Flava Flav trades rhymes with Method Man on "Soul Power." An initial single from the set, "Pinky Ring" was sent to radio in October. A second track, "The Rules," will be the first commercial single from the album, featuring lyrics referring directly to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.





'Plug' Life

Jay-ZRapper Jay-Z takes a step off the beaten path this week with "Unplugged" (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam), drawn from a recent taping for MTV's popular acoustic performance showcase of the same name. For the show, Jay-Z was backed by Roots bassist Leon Hubbard and drummer Amir Thompson as well as a string quartet. He was also joined by Mary J. Blige for the pair's "Can't Knock the Hustle" and the latter's chart-topping single "Family Affair."

"Welcome to Jay-Z's poetry hour," the rapper joked. "Hark, who goes there?" Although MTV producers asked the audience to not stand up during the taping, the crowd was on its feet for "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It to Me)." "Everybody, you gotta get up for this one!" the rapper said. Throughout, Jay-Z also did his best to lay off the profanity that is found in much of his music.

The 14-track set features such ubiquitous hits as "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)," "Big Pimpin'," "Hard Knock Life (the Ghetto Anthem)," and "Girls, Girls, Girls," as well as the hidden track "People Talkin'." Jay-Z's recent studio album, "The Blueprint," debuted at No. 1 on The Billboard 200 in September and has sold more than 1.6 million copies in the U.S. to date, according to SoundScan.





'Bag' It, Tag It

Bow WowIn between receiving BET and Nickelodeon awards, headlining a national tour, and receiving the key to the city of Camden, N.J., 14-year-old Lil Bow Wow (a.k.a. Shad Moss) managed to record the follow-up to his So So Def/Columbia debut album, "Beware of Dog." The new set, "Doggy Bag," is led by the single "Thank You," which is No. 47 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart.

"'Thank You' is the most powerful song I've released in my career so far," says the Columbus, Ohio, native. "It's about thanking all the fans, DJs, and people who made this all happen." His gratitude is understandable: According to SoundScan, the young rapper's freshman effort has sold 2.4 million units in the U.S. to date.

"Doggy Bag" was largely produced by So So Def chief Jermaine Dupri in tandem with Bryan-Michael Cox, although the Neptunes co-produced the track "Take Ya Home." Other highlights include "Get Up" featuring Fundisha and "The Wickedest" and "Pick of the Litter" featuring So So Def newcomers R.O.C and Tigah. Look for Bow Wow hosting BET's Top 25 Countdown Dec. 22 and an appearance on MTV's New Year's Eve countdown.





Back In The 'Game'

Master PMaster P is definitely no stranger to the game called the music business. The 10-year industry veteran and No Limit Records founder/CEO is ready to take his company to the next level, eyeing the crossover market. Re-christened New No Limit following its recent transition from Priority to Universal Records, the label kicks off that partnership this week with Master P's "Gameface."

The 16-track set sports production by Master P, Presidential Campaign -- a cadre of up-and-coming producers from Canada -- and another newcomer, Myke Diesel. What also sets this album apart from past efforts is a shift from Master P's signature southern sound and the use of samples, ranging from such artists as Teena Marie, the Isley Brothers, and Bee Gees.

"It was time to move on and open up other marketplaces," the rapper/entrepreneur says. "It feels great. This is the most mature record I've put out and the most radio-friendly. It also works for the streets and clubs. There's something for everybody." It's also his most family-oriented project, with his brothers Silkk the Shocker and C and son Lil' Romeo on board. The genial first single "Ooohhhwee" features Master P's latest rap protege, Weebie. It's No. 58 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart this week.





Bell BivR&B veterans Bell Biv DeVoe return this week with "BBD" (Biv 10/Universal), their first studio album in eight years. Although Ronnie DeVoe admits part of the delay came from time spent wrangling out of its contract with MCA, for Ricky Bell, the main challenge was finding the right musical groove. "We know the elements of a hit," he says about the group who notched such R&B/pop crossover smashes as 1990's "Poison," "Do Me!," and "BBD (I Thought It Was Me)?" "So we began throwing ideas in the pot, knowing that once we got a couple of tracks done, we'd be on our way."

The trio's 11-track outing features lead single "Da Hot S... (Aight)," a pulsating collaboration between co-writers BBD and producer Rockwilder (Janet Jackson, Destiny's Child). DeVoe says, "This first single has an energy that's not out there right now." Michael Bivins adds, "We just made sure we had the right rhythms and lyrics. We wanted to keep it simple but leave room for others to work with us and make a record that will also appeal to the younger [generation]."

Bell describes the overall sound of BBD as "very reminiscent of the flavor of 'Poison.' I think we've done a good job of reinventing ourselves without going too far from what we're known for musically: being straight-ahead and funky. Lyrically, we're still controversial and daring. Musically, we're right there with what's happening now."





Additional titles hitting stores this week include:

- A new album from rapper Mystikal, "Tarantula" (Jive), featuring the Neptunes-produced first single "Bouncin' Back (Bumpin' Me Against the Wall)"

- Rapper Nas' "Stillmatic" (Ill Will/Columbia), featuring the top-10 Hot Rap Singles track "Got Ur Self A..."

- The various artists compilation "Ruff Ryders Vol. III: In the 'R' We Trust" (Ruff Ryders/Interscope), featuring tracks from Eve, Jadakiss, DMX, Petey Pablo, and Ludacris

- The soundtrack to the film "Orange County" (Columbia), including new singles from the Offspring and the Foo Fighters

- The soundtrack to the film "The Royal Tenenbaums" (Hollywood), with tracks from the Ramones, Bob Dylan, Nick Drake, and the Clash, as well as a score by Devo's Mark Motherbaugh.

- The various artists compilation "Source Presents: Hip Hop Hits, Vol. 6" (Def Jam), featuring previously released cuts from Nelly, D12, Outkast, and Missy Elliott, among others