Joell Ortiz, 'Free Agent' (E1/Koch)

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Free Agent
Critical Mass
Label: E1/Koch

by J Gabriel Boylan

In rap circles, potential is a double-edged sword. And a line like "Never see me in magazines / But I'm the source" is where youthful boasting meets mid-career anxiety. This Brooklyn MC's second proper album (after a raft of mixtapes) refers to his liberation from Dr. Dre's Aftermath imprint, and it's a booming, Chevy-ready, club-averse reintroduction (with production from DJ Premier, DJ Khalil, and others). Ortiz's husky, furiously paced vocals enliven familiar subjects -- gangsta struggle ("One Shot," "Start to Fade"), lyricism ("Nursery Rhymes"), and substance abuse (the perfectly structured motivational tale "Night Train").

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