DOWNLOAD: Rickie Jacobs, 'Songs for High School Kids'
Rating: *** out of 4
There's a heightened sense of purpose on Rickie Jacobs' latest album, "Songs for High School Kids." Beats are slicker, concepts are smarter and the stakes seem higher. It's as if the 26-year-old Park Heights native knows he's never had more eyes on him than right now.
He's been building a presence online for a while, but last May's "Live Epic" saw Jacobs' name on national rap websites such as The Source and 2 Dope Boyz. His rise has led to Jacobs' strongest effort yet -- 'Songs for High School Kids,' a peculiar title for someone who will be receiving a 10-year reunion invitation sooner than later.
Head-scratching name aside, Jacobs mostly plays to his strengths here. His flow is conversational and lacks flash, similar to Wiz Khalifa's, but it's elastic enough to give life to Jacobs' near-constant barrage of boasts. It's solid enough to overcome an audible lisp, which would normally sink lesser MCs.
His main problem is indulgence. A penchant for vocal tricks -- random chopped-and-screwed lines, Drake-style crooning, Auto-Tuned dramatic speak -- distracts from his flow, Jacobs' most dependable asset. These bells and whistles (most noticeable on "We$TSide" and "Ride With Me") come off as over-reaching, and remind us that bigger doesn't always mean better.
Still, the flow, which can shift from staccato double-time to a sing-songy cadence with ease, saves him. "Songs" has only two features ("Intimate Friends" with Al Great and "My N-----" with Starrz), and they are instant standouts. Adding arguably greater talents to the fold forces Jacobs to rap with purpose.
But remove the guests, and Jacobs still succeeds more often than not. Closer "'86 Draft" and "Seven 57 High" prove he's dexterous enough to carry a track alone. On the project's best track, "Aiden," Jacobs pauses from the sexual conquests and chest-puffing to pen an endearing tribute to his son.
"Being No. 1 is something I wanted badly / But you gotta understand nothing comes before your family," he raps. Maturity isn't often associated with high school, but everyone graduates, and grows up, at some point. -- Wesley Case