South Carolina MC Lil' Ru's serpentine path to his debut, 21 and Up, almost approaches Joe Budden levels for hardships and derailments. He rose to prominence in the South Carolina scene as a teen in the early-'00s and bounced around labels. Uber-stripclub jam "The Nasty Song" made the rounds for over a year as the record was pushed back further and further. Ultimately released in August 2009, the record is still a bit of a mess, but far from an uninteresting one. "Nasty," a bass-heavy ode to strippers' charm, is featured, but is a bit of a misleading introduction to the album (other than Ru's clear and overwhelming affection for naked women dancing in blacklit rooms). While that song is a typical apple-bottom jam, catchy but cookie cutter, much of the rest of the record is practically experimental hip-hop. Ru describes his sound as a "gumbo of crunk, snap, and other popular Southern rap styles," and that isn't mere Dixie whistling. Ru casually saunters in with "This Ain't What You Want," easing into his rhymes before unleashing his high-speed flow, adorned by a cacophony of chants, shouts, screeching string samples, frantic percussion, and whatever else captures his fancy. Excess is the theme of the day for Ru; even when he shows off his gentler side, as on the soulful "Life," there are drum trills and background shouts galore. Like his fellow Lil', Wayne, there are moments of pure genius, notably the willfully off-kilter "Problems" (and "Nasty"'s hook is hard to deny), but overall, there's a feel of just too much sound shoehorned onto every track.
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AllMusic Review by Jason Thurston