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Lil’ Flip, ‘I Need Mine’ (Sony Urban/Columbia)

In hip-hop, MC monikers are either flat nicknames or ostentatious badges. Somewhat enigmatically, the affable freestyle champ and Houston native Wesley Eric Weston calls himself Lil’ Flip. Inside that enigma is a riddle: Is he advertising his battle-honed script-flipping ability, or hinting at his screwed comic sensibility, an offhand irreverence we might call flipness? That he also calls himself Flipperace and takes inspiration from Leprechaun (which he named his first album after), not Scarface, suggests he’s trying to fill the floppy shoes of the hip-hop jester. He’s even said that his biopic should be a comedy. Yet his irresistible amenable fourth album ends with the acoustic-and-strings ballad “I Need 2 Find My Way,” in which he raps, “I don’t need punch lines ’cause I live my lines” — as if the Flipper is in no mood to clown himself.

Lucky for us, Lil’ Flip seems to lead a today-was-a-good-day, not my-mind-is-playing-tricks-on-me, kind of life. On “Give Me a Beat,” a juicy slab of bounce that almost sounds ominous, he tweaks the gangsta-isms he can’t quite put aside: “I copped them guns just for fun,” and coyly alluding to an old conflict with T.I., “All the beef I ever had I got out of my teeth.” Ah yes, flossing. That’s one chore Flip doesn’t much bother with. He’s less interested in enumerating his possessions than peacocking on his laurels. He maintains that, like Jay-Z, he memorizes his lines instead of writing them down, which is evident from his shoot-the-shit flow on the darkly woozy, chopped chorus of “I’m a Balla (Flip My Chips)” and the skittering thug shout “I’m a Warrior.”

But unlike Jay-Z, you’d be hard-pressed to find gusts of brilliance amid all this breeziness. Flip dispatches the usual theme tracks–‘hood documentary (the oddly sensual “Da Gudda”), sex-capade (R’n’B cool-out “Sorry Lil’ Mama”), painful reminiscence (the lustrously downbeat “Ghetto Mindstate [Can’t Get Away]”) — a little too easily. He’s at his best on the single “What It Do,” where the only point is radio play. Over a cartoonishly regal Mannie Fresh beat, Flip adopts his Liberace-inspired alias and boasts of his primacy in France. The leader of the flip-hop nation is all about uneasy alliances.

See Also: DJ Ayres & JD, Houston for Dummies (The Rub, 2006)