Breaking & Entering

A look at the latest acts that are breaking at radio and retail and entering the Billboard charts. This week: Rhian Benson, Year Of The Rabbit, Young Roscoe and Shadows Fall.

A look at the latest acts that are breaking at radio and retail and entering the Billboard charts.

FROM HARVARD TO BET: The neo-soul movement has resulted in some of the more lively and creative artists in R&B over the past few years. D'Angelo, Macy Gray, Jill Scott and Erykah Badu have all ridden a jazzy groove to mainstream success, and up-and-coming artists such as Goapele and Syleena Johnson prove the genre has yet to tap out its talent. Into the mix comes Rhian Benson, who recently abandoned Harvard's MBA program to pursue a career in music.

After ditching the world of business, Benson returned to her family's London home and began singing at local clubs. Although a graduate of the London School of Economics, her musical desires surely did not shock her family. Her mother is a singer, and her father, a dignitary of the Ashanti tribe in Ghana, West Africa, is a guitarist.

Rhian BensonSmall L.A.-based label DKG Music offered Benson her first major break, and she signed to the label to record the six-song EP "Spirit." The set's laid-back elegance, and subtle mix of funk, acoustic guitars and strings, recalls the work of both India.Arie and Sade. All of the songs on "Spirit" were written by Benson, and produced by James Poyser (Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott) and Bob Power (D'Angelo, Erykah Badu).

The cabaret-ready "Say How I Feel," the EP's opening cut, is slowly becoming a hit on the Adult R&B chart published by Billboard's sister publication Airplay Monitor. In three weeks on the tally, the song has risen to No. 24 and last week saw the biggest airplay gain on the chart. "Say How I Feel" is garnering the most attention in the Midwest, but stations in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., are starting to get in on the action.

Benson is currently wrapping her debut album, "Gold Coast." A release date has not yet been set for the full-length, which Benson recorded with the same team that made "Spirit." In the meantime, interested fans can look forward to a Benson special on BET that will begin airing in August.

Year Of The RabbitHOPPING TO SUCCESS: Like its moniker, Failure laced its self-loathing with irony, a formula that typified many mid-1990s grunge acts. Yet the group found an underground following, thanks to a debut recorded with Steve Albini and some cheerleading courtesy of Tool.

A 1996 Warner Bros. album didn't sell, however, and Failure lived up to its name. Leader Ken Andrews became an in-demand producer in Los Angeles, working with Pete Yorn, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Creeper Lagoon and Sense Field, among others. A solo project, dubbed On, sputtered, and Andrews' success seemed confined to his work behind the boards.

Not ready to retire his rock star ambitions, Andrews assembled Year of the Rabbit. Featuring Jeff Garber (National Skyline), Tim Dow (Shiner) and Solomon Snyder (Cupcakes), the band was signed by Elektra after just a handful of live shows.

Debut single "Rabbit Hole," a powerful, hook-filled rock song sure to please anyone owning a Foo Fighters record, has been getting airplay on more than 20 stations throughout the country, according to Airplay Monitor, with West Coast stations leading the pack. Additionally, the band's Andrews-produced self-titled debut landed last week at No. 42 on Billboard's Heatseekers tally. The feat marked the first time one of Andrews' bands has reached any of Billboard's charts.

Year of the Rabbit is on a headlining club tour until the middle of August.

Young RoscoeLIL' BROTHER: From Lil' Bow Wow to Lil' Romeo, the hip-hop world has plenty of famous young rappers. Rising star Roscoe may be the lil' brother of one-time Death Row Records mainstay Kurupt, but the 17-year-old's major label debut, "Young Roscoe Philaphornia," isn't kid's stuff.

Released two months ago by Priority/Capitol, the album melds East Coast delivery with glossy West Coast production, representing the rapper's roots in Philadelphia and his current Los Angeles residence. Even though at times the album gives way to typical party rap on such cuts as "Get Ready," current single "Smooth Sailing," with its casual, R&B-feel, shows why Roscoe is pegged by many as a future star. "Head to Toe" and "Last Night" further explore Roscoe's soul tendencies, and hint that Roscoe's influences stretch far beyond his older sibling's hardcore stylings.

Roscoe was first introduced to rap fans as a guest on Kurupt's "Girls All Pause," which was a minor hit in 2000. The name recognition has helped both of Roscoe's singles reach Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart, where "Head to Toe" spent two weeks in May. Radio has been even more kind to "Smooth Sailing," and the song's easy-going groove has propelled it No. 28 on Airplay Monitor's Rhythmic Top 40 chart, a new peak-position it reached last week.

Since its release, "Young Roscoe Philaphornia" has been a consistent seller. It peaked at No. 3 on Billboard's Heatseekers chart, but continues to hold in the mid-section of the tally, resting at No. 36 last week. To date, the album has sold about 30,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Shadows FallOUT OF THE SHADOWS: Ozzfest has been kind to many a heavy metal act. This year has already seen a high debut on The Billboard 200 from Cradle of Filth, which saw its sales hike as soon as the band was announced as a second-stage headliner on this year's tour. Yet few foresaw the breakout success of Century Media act Shadows Fall, which has become one of the more talked-about acts on the annual heavy metal extravaganza.

Despite an early time slot (Shadows Fall has routinely played before noon), the Massachusetts-bred act has won over fans at critics alike with its Slayer-like complexities. Shadows Fall has been largely ignored by radio, but MTV2 has embraced the act, and the band's 2002 release, "The Art of Balance," reappeared on Billboard's Independent Albums tally last week at No. 49. In just under a year, the set has sold 50,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Shadows Fall is not only taking steps to capitalize on its newfound success, but will attempt to widen its fan base outside the heavy metal realm. Once Ozzfest wraps, Shadows Fall will step out on the Take Action 2003 tour, featuring such punk-leaning acts as Death by Stereo and Poison the Well. The 21-date club tour kicks off Sept. 11 in Minneapolis.