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Previewing new albums from No Doubt, Joe, Mobb Deep, and more.

'Steady' As They Come

No DoubtNo Doubt bassist Tony Kanal recalls he and his bandmates being stuck in London Sept. 11. They were in the city to work on the band's new Interscope album, "Rock Steady," and he says it was "a really tough, anxious time to be away from home." Comforting was "the fact that the four of us were together," he adds. "It was like being with your family away from home." It was another example of the band members' ongoing allegiance to each other, even after roughly 15 years together and in light of singer Gwen Stefani's recent success away from the band on projects with Moby and Eve.

Kanal says the title of the act's new album is meant to describe that bond (it's also a shout-out to the type of reggae that inspired "Rock Steady"). After adopting a somewhat more serious, rock tone on last year's Glen Ballard-produced "Return of Saturn," the genre-bending act continues its musical evolution on "Rock Steady," which blends '80s new-wave with dancehall and hip-hop. First single "Hey Baby" featuring Bounty Killer is No. 16 on Billboard's Top 40 Mainstream chart this week.

"I think we're going back to what we were originally about, which was just having fun," Kanal says of the set, which features songs co-written by the band and Prince, dancehall artist Lady Saw, the Neptunes, and the Eurythmics' Dave Stewart. The production included work by Sly and Robbie, Steely & Clevie, Nellee Hooper, Ric Ocasek, and William Orbit. Making the album was "super fun," says Stefani, who compares the collaborations to "getting naked in front of someone you've never met before and trying to be creative."

Getting 'Better'

JoeR&B vocalist Joe is back this week with "Better Days," his third Jive album and the follow-up to 2000's "My Name Is Joe," which hit No. 1 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. "With everything that's going on in the world, we need a little emotional and spiritual upliftment in our music," the artist says of the set. First single "Let's Stay Home Tonight" is No. 25 on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks.

Although "Better Days" does feature the kind of romantic tracks for which Joe has become known, it also addresses teenage pregnancy in its title cut. "I wanted to talk about teenage pregnancy, because it is a major issue in our communities," Joe says. "But, while people are often fighting with their struggles, I want them to know that while a little rain might fall it will be followed by some sunshine."

Among the guests helping out on the album include Shaggy, who is featured on "Ghetto Child," rapper Petey Pablo, producers the Neptunes, and the Boys Choice Choir of Harlem. "This is music from the heart," Joe says. "Music for the people and music for the soul."

'High' Times

Method ManWith rappers Method Man and Redman starring in the upcoming smoke-fest film "How High," it's appropriate that new and classic tracks from the duo lace the flick's Def Jam soundtrack. First single "Part II" is No. 47 on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks. Among the other notable tracks included are the duo's "How High" and "Da Rockwilder," which both appeared on their 1999 album "Blackout." Also featured is "N2gether Now" by Limp Bizkit with Method Man.

"How High" also sports tracks from DMX ("Party Up (Up in Here)"), Ludacris featuring Shawwna ("What's Your Fantasy"), Streetlife ("Who Wanna Rap"), and Method Man and Redman's "Cisco Kid" featuring Cypress Hill and War.

Directed by Jesse Dylan, "How High" stars Method Man as a botanical wiz named Silas and Redman as his slacker sidekick Jamal. With IQ's boosted by a strain of high-powered marijuana developed by Silas, the hip-hop Cheech & Chong land scholarships to Harvard. But as their supply dwindles, they're forced to find creative ways to keep their grades up to snuff. Due to open in U.S. theaters Dec. 21, the film also features Spalding Gray, Mike Epps, Hector Elizondo, and Fred Willard.

Almost 'Infamous'

Mobb DeepMobb Deep returns this week with its new Loud album, "Infamy." The set, the fifth from the Queens, N.Y.-based gangsta rap duo of Havoc and Prodigy, sports guest appearances from Big Noyd, 112, Lil' Mo, Ronald Isley of the Isley Brothers, and the Lox, as well as production assistance from the Alchemist, who worked on the group's last album, "Murda Muzik." The album peaked at No. 3 on The Billboard 200 in September 1999 and has sold 902,000 units to date, according to SoundScan.

Much of "Infamy" was produced by Havoc, including first single "Burn." The cut features a guest shot by Big Noyd, as well as Vita, who contributes the chorus hook. Vita was earlier introduced via Ja Rule's "Put It on Me." Second single "Hey Luv" featuring 112 is No. 61 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart this week.

"When we were recording 'Infamy,' there were times when it just hit me -- everything was clicking together and sounding better than it ever had," Prodigy says. "Maybe it's taken all the drama that we've gone through together for us to reach this peak. Over the years, we've lost a lot of loved ones, fought battles with enemies and with ourselves, done dirt that we regret, seen the bitter and the glitter."

Additional titles hitting stores this week include:

-- a new album from rapper Warren G, "Return of the Regulator" (Universal), featuring appearances by Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Mista Grimm, and El DeBarge

-- the soundtrack to the film "Vanilla Sky" (Warner Bros.), featuring a newly recorded track from R.E.M. plus songs from Red House Painters, Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, and Sigur Ros

-- the soundtrack from the second installment of the "Popstars" reality show (London/Sire)

-- a best-of from Diana Ross and the Supremes, "Anthology" (Motown).

-- reissues of the Johnny Cash albums "America" and "Ragged Old Flag" (Columbia/Legacy)

-- DVD Audio editions of the Eagles' "Hotel California" (Elektra); Al Green's "Greatest Hits" (The Right Stuff); and Dave Koz's "The Dance" (Capitol)

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