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Young Gunz, ‘Tough Luv’ (Roc-a-Fella)

Jay-Z’s retirement and Dame Dash’s extracurricular activities have dominated Roc-A-Fella-related headlines during the last year. But under the radar, the label has been developing a strong farm system of Philadelphia rappers–most under the tutelage of Beanie Sigel and loosely united in the Philly “supergroup” State Property–who are preparing for the day when Hov retires to his yacht and Memphis Bleek goes back to work at Best Buy.

Last year, neck-bearded, newcomer Freeway made a splash with an album that fused Muslim ideals and street-corner steel. This time, it’s Young Gunz (postadolescent Philadelphians Young Chris and Neef). The lads scored a summer hit with the club banger,”Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop,” a testament to their luck with the ladies delivered over an infectious, minimal electro beat. The duo’s debut album, Tough Luv, boasts the same solid production: Just Blaze updates the beat from Clipse’s “Grindin'” yet again on the Schoolly D homage “Friday Night,” which comes complete with bangin’-on-the-lunch-table percussion; “Rich Girl” jacks Philly brethren Hall & Oates’ song of the same name with a wink and a smile. The title track is an oddly moving account of Neef’s struggle to extricate himself from a life of crime. And Young Chris pleads with him to trade thuggery for the legal hustle of the music business, their rapport–and the authentic friendship behind it–is obvious and poignant. But it doesn’t make up for the enormous talent disparity on display throughout Tough Luv. Chris can be charming, funny, and menacing all in one verse. Neef, meanwhile, hammers away with boilerplate boasts and pedestrian threats, betraying nary a twinkle of charisma. Don’t think of A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip and Phife; think Naughty by Nature’s Treach and Vinnie. Or Hall & Oates.