Keak Da Sneak 

Deified

A lot of successful rappers get by with one idea that they rehash over and over again. Keak da Sneak's good idea was his 2001 album Hi-Tek, oft hailed as the progenitor of the infectious but ill-fated Bay Area hyphy movement. He tried the same formula (gritty funk samples, nonsensical rhymes riddled with made-up slang words, a slightly behind-the-beat cadence) in the equally wonderful 2003 album, Counting Other People's Money, and in the slightly less wonderful 2006 album Farm Boyz. The cover art on this year's Deified indicates that Keak is finally ready to consolidate his career: he's perched on a throne with a scepter that looks more like a drill bit. The 23 songs suggest otherwise.

Granted, there's no debating that Keak is a phenomenal rapper. His fluidity, sense of humor, distinctly gravelly cadence, ability to coin a phrase on the spot ("ass chauffeur," anyone?), and way of manhandling the beat make him one of the best lyricists in the game. If he stopped recycling rhymes, he could easily run circles around Lil' Wayne. But therein lies the problem: Keak needs to stop revisiting old material (i.e., the lyric On citas, bonitas, and señoritas), and he needs more quality control on the production side. The best songs are sample-driven radio hits like "N Fronta Ya Mama House," the Alchemists' hooky "That Go" remix, and Traxamillion's tour de force "SuperHyphy."

But there's a wide gulf between these cuts and tracks like "Oakland," which comprises two slapped-together groove sections (a drily orchestrated cowbell and a melodic, crazy-ass bridge). And Keak's guests — namely, Daz Dillinger on "19 Dummy" and Paul Wall on "On Citas" — are starting to pass him up. When you're from the bay and you get outdone by Paul Wall, you know it's all bad. (Koch)

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