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POP RECORDINGS

Fresh starts, from rap to rock

Some of this fall's new releases could change the music landscape

In keeping with the theme of ``firsts," we've chosen to highlight four CDs -- three debut albums from emerging artists and one mid-career swerve from an established star. Among them, you'll find an enlightened young rapper poised to shift the direction of hip-hop, a brash MC from across the pond who's breaking down gender barriers, a pop singer who scrolled back 400 years to find inspiration for his ninth solo album, and an Israeli rock band that -- with a little luck -- could take the world by storm.

Lupe Fiasco, ``Food & Liquor," Atlantic, in stores Sept. 19

The first single from the underground rap sensation's major-label debut is ``Kick Push," a skateboarding anthem. Did we mention that Fiasco is Muslim, bespectacled, a voracious reader, and doesn't drink, drug, or club? The 24-year-old Chicago MC -- did we mention he's a jazz buff? -- is being hailed as the leader of hip-hop's new school, and he's clearly up to the task. Fiasco's already got a Reebok sneaker deal and the love of Kanye, and if all of ``Food & Liquor" is as humble and artful as the second single (a piano-driven, Neptunes-produced gem called ``I Gotcha") the future looks bright.

Sting, ``Songs from the Labyrinth ," Deutsche Grammophon, in stores Oct. 3

The math teacher-turned-Police-man-turned-solo-pop craftsman is once again branching out, and this one's a doozy. Sting has teamed up with Sarajevo lutenist Edin Karama zov on a collection of 16th-century songs by the Elizabethan composer John Dowland. Such titles as ``The Most High and Mighty Christianus the Fourth, King of Denmark, His Galliard" and ``. . . After my departure I caled to mynde our conference" are strangely suited to his midlife Stingness, who enunciates with mind-blowing precision on this Deutsche Grammophon release. Sting calls these ancient compositions 400-year-old pop songs. In that light, there are some sick vintage raps here, too, but Sting's flow is better suited to contemplation and courtship than booty shaking.

Lady Sovereign, ``Public Warning," Island, in stores Oct. 3

It's not just the first full-length from Lady Sovereign, a.k.a. Louise Harmon, the diminutive British rapper who made a critical splash with her 2005 EP ``Vertically Challenged" and is fond of calling herself ``the biggest midget in the game." This is the first album ever from a white female English MC. Witty, feisty, and in-your-face, 20-year-old Sov scored her record deal with Def Jam (she's the first non-American female on the roster) after performing an on-the-spot freestyle for label honchos Jay-Z and L.A. Reid. But don't expect any superstar producers or hotshot guest artists to grease Sov's wheels stateside; most of her elastic, electro-fied rhymes were recorded with her ``Vertically Challenged" producer Medasyn before she signed to Def Jam, and it's a testament to the label's faith that they're letting her stay stripped and real. With that stylin' side ponytail and rapid-fire flow, maybe Lady Sovereign can take UK hip-hop where Dizzee Rascal and the Streets have stumbled: the U S mainstream.

missFlag , as-yet-untitled, self-released in October

The e-mail in box pile up makes it tempting to auto-delete, but every once in a while one of those unsolicited messages from an unknown band produces the goods. So it was with missFlag, a year-old indie-rock band from Jerusalem that will release its debut collection of gorgeous pop-rockers in October. Comparisons to Coldplay are unavoidable. Of course the timing is good: now that Keane's lead singer is in rehab we need a new New Coldplay. But missFlag brings a beautifully shambling sensibility to the epic chord changes and winsome melodies. Check out the five tracks streaming at www.missflag.com, where you'll be able to buy the full-length CD next month.

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