Black Mike, Lil A, Mirage, and Lil Brian
Reviewed by Thomas Fawcett, Fri., Sept. 28, 2007
With the recent Under-ground Kingz, UGK re-established themselves as top dogs of Southern rap. Like UGK, local What It Dew Family affiliates Black Mike and Lil A document street hustle in rhyme. Lil A's Hold My Own on Blood Money Records is a 60-minute gun-clapping romp through the hood. The beats knock, but the gangsterism quickly grows tired. Black Mike holds down most of the production on Hold My Own, and his own independently released mixtape, Mixed Emotions Vol. 1, features guest spots from Bavu Blakes and a host of other local talent. While Lil A never removes his bulletproof vest, Black Mike proves a more versatile MC, demonstrating a sense of humor ("Reality Chick"), storytelling ability ("Meet John"), and even vulnerability ("Sonagram"). On "Eastside Song," he shouts out Sam's BBQ and gives a valuable oral history lesson on Austin's Eastside OGs. On Mirage's self-titled disc from MelodicScience Recordings, the ATX MC with the sleepy flow could be in direct dialogue with Lil A: "Y'all cats ain't learned nothin' from Pac and Biggie. Can't keep speaking death and expect to keep livin'." At 30-plus years, Mirage deftly plays the role of elder hip-hop statesman, giving grown folk perspective on tracks like "Blue Collar Emcee" and "Grown Man Business." Too many tracks are spoiled by uninspired hooks, and the album can be schizophrenic; sunny party track "That Bump" finds Mirage playing off De la Soul's "A Roller Skating Jam Named 'Saturdays,'" while "Posted in Tha A" sounds like a Three 6 Mafia rip-off. The best material is buried at the end of the album, where Global and Element 7D drop gems and PHD serves up a scorching beat on "Octane." The real beat-boxing curveball comes courtesy of Barrett Station's Lil' Brian, who mixes his singsong hip-hop style with zydeco on Worldwide (High Rollers Entertainment). The fusion goes down like peanut butter and horseradish, but Kurupt from the Dogg Pound keeps things interesting with one of the most unlikely guest spots in recent memory.