Blak Jak

Place Your Bets

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While young upstart Blak Jak is obviously influenced by his Georgia brothers T.I. and Young Jeezy, he doesn't pretend he actually is them or even that he could replace them. That's refreshing for a Southern hip-hop album seeing release in 2006, especially when it's a debut on a major label. Not to make him sound like an innovator or anything, but Blak Jak has been going against the grain since the beginning, when he put up the slow-burning "Ride & Swerve" single while there was a torrent of aggressive, in-your-face trunk rumblers on the radio. He at least waited till single number two -- the good-time "Bobbin My Head" -- to go that route, and maybe Place Your Bets relies too heavily on tried and true Georgia formulas here and there, but for a rapper swiftly pushed into the big time because his single got some local attention, it's admirable how Blak Jak seems to have his eye on the long haul. Hooks are everywhere and folks like Shawty Redd and Don Cannon create some fine loops for Blak to lay his charismatic raps upon. His lyrics are above average -- check the bittersweet look back "All I Know" for proof -- but it's his energy level that's most striking at this point. Just fresh enough, Place Your Bets should keep Blak Jak in the game till he's able to come off his first hit single high and fully explore his inclination for individuality.

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