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Puff Piece

Puff Daddy is still all about the Benjamins.

The sun has set on Harlem World. In the late '90s, "taking hits from the '80s" required the Bad Boy to steal from songs better left to the muzak of Harris Teeter (remember that sample of "Sailin'?"). The P. Diddy's claim to last Forever had about as much staying power as Mase. Not to mention that whole pesky felony trial stemming from the infamous December 1999 shooting at Club New York (jury selection continues this week).

So what's an ostentatious, near-washed-out producer to do? Sign four girls from the valley and like, totally create a teen pop group! Puff's jump from hip-hop America to new pop America?: Dream, the new Puffed-up player in the TRL arena. The group's first single "He Loves U Not" is indeed spunky-and currently No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, Dream's CD, It Was All a Dream is just what these girls will probably be lamenting a year from now. The album is dreamy-breathy alto vocals and hazy synth-heavy pop, not to mention some of the most clichéd lyrics and derivative melodies to date. Dream can put you to sleep.

The band's website boasts that "with Puff Daddy at the helm, the girls are destined for a Dream come true." Unfortunately, Dream's sequined tank tops and pop-by-numbers lack the sparkle to glow on the charts-or to revive Puffy's falling star.

However, the Puff's "partner in crime" (pun intended) is just about to supernova. As if Jennifer Lopez isn't ubiquitous enough, her second album, J-Lo, secures her status as pop culture's "it" girl.

Lopez's first effort, On the 6, was produced to hide her paper-thin voice and promote her, um, other assets. Give anyone a personal trainer and some bronzer, the record suggested, and any fly girl could go platinum.

Or so I thought. I was all ready with my "flash in the pan-remember Paula Abdul" references, but I've been completely disarmed. J-Lo turns out to be a worthwhile disc. A heavy Latin influence infuses this album of disco, hip-hop and dance pop with infectious energy, and Jennifer's songs en español are simply addictive. Like most pop albums, the lyrics are requisitely forgettable, though each track has its own compelling and unique qualities. But the biggest shocker of J-Lo by far is that Jen actually can sing. Seems she's been spending as much time with her vocal coach as she does at the gym.

Ms. Lopez definitely outshines her Bad Boy.

Or as Dream themselves would put it: "Always looking for a new ride / The grass is greener on the other side."

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