C-Rayz Walz

Year of the Beast

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Working that balance of deep and freewheeling he has since hitting the scene, C-Rayz Walz leaves behind the cohesion of 2003's Ravipops and tackles nearly everything on Year of the Beast. A natural-born freestyler and battle rapper, the skilled and schooled Walz is up to the challenge, and while listening to the album in one go is exhausting -- despite a 55-minute runtime, modest by hip-hop standards -- it's a success if taken as a highlight-filled mixtape displaying what this boy can do. Showy lines like "I walk through the ghetto holding my dic-/(pregnant pause) tionary" are backed-up by deep ones while approachable, radio-friendly numbers are tempered with challenging productions that sit with the Def Jux label's most maverick moments. Punks get what's coming to them on the ghetto-snide old-schooler "Pink," while "Blackout" acknowledges the rock-rap of its time and mixes in an up-to-the-minute, D12-flavored chorus. Doesn't seem like all this should be on the same album, but it is, with no segues, and no concept holding it together. There's a lot of hunger though, and genuine talent that wants to be heard as much as it wants to brag. With so many rappers pimpin' their sneaker line or trying extra hard to fit the noble rulebook of the underground backpackers, that's a rare commodity in 2005 and one that's easier than usual for fans of the underground to connect with. Walz burned his old rhyme book before recording the album, so freedom is in effect on Year of the Beast. You'll have to chunk out your own hang-together EPs from all this divergent material, but it's definitely worth it. [The Year of the Beast CD was initially released in a limited edition with a bonus DVD featuring a documentary and videos.]

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