Styles P

Super Gangster (Extraordinary Gentleman)

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Styles P's third solo full-length, Super Gangster (Extraordinary Gentleman), was not titled haphazardly. The album, like the rapper's others, is a mixture of synth-heavy hardcore rap -- with enough gun and drug references to satisfy the hardest of all listeners -- and more soul-sample-driven contemplative (but nothing near backpack) hip-hop. The Phantom's a self-professed thug ("There's a part of me that loves being a gangster," he admits on "Alone in the Street"), bragging about his toughness throughout the entire record and bringing in guests like Jadakiss and Sheek Louch on "Gangster, Gangster," Ghostface Killah ("A twin ghost experience!") on "Star of the State," and Green Lantern on the excellent "Holiday" -- which includes the kind of line Styles is best at, simple but pointed: "I get ya, get the picture?/I'm the painter, you're the painted" -- to help keep things intense, both in production (beats are from Hi-Tek, the Alchemist, and Akon, among others) and lyrics. But he's also quite thoughtful, conscious of his and his music's image, and tries his best to address this: "Hard being the gangsta rapper/You don't know the half/You ain't got to condone this, but you was never homeless," he rhymes on "All I Know Is Pain." It's this type of careful reflection that separates the MC from most of his contemporaries, and makes tracks like the aforementioned "Alone in the Street" or "Cause I'm Black," with guest Black Thought, which explores racism ("genocide, Jena Six, guilty till we're innocent," the Roots' frontman spits) and acts as a kind of sequel to "I'm Black," not seem out of place amid the harder, more violent pieces and even the couple of club- or radio-friendly tracks (Hi-Tek's "Let's Go" -- which features a hook from none other than Brandy's little bro Ray J -- the Swizz Beatz single "Blow Your Mind"). SP never pushes too far in one direction so that he creates an unbelievable persona; instead, he's multifaceted, both cocky and aware of his faults, introspective and angry, and so even when things get a bit repetitive, or even miss ("Green Piece of Paper" for example, variants of which have been done too many times before), there's an air of honesty about it all, which makes Super Gangster (Extraordinary Gentleman) a very solid release.

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