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Starrz, 'Live Forever. Die Dope' (Relumae)
DOWNLOAD: Starrz, "Live Forever. Die Dope" (DatPiff)
RATING: *** out of 4
"Live Forever. Die Dope," the new album by Baltimore rapper Starrz, spends its first few tracks building a case that the 26-year-old born Colby Hall can rap. The true test comes on "G.O.A.T.," a rumbling, lyrical exercise between Starrz and King Los, the dexterous Baltimore-born rapper signed to Bad Boy Records. While Starrz fails to outshine his syllable-stacking guest, he more than holds his own through sneering confidence and alliteration.
So yes, Starrz can rap, but that was already established on his eye-opening 2012 project "Best Mixtape Ever." The follow-up once again finds Starrz flexing his versatility, as he shifts like a chameleon from track to track, but more significantly, it tells his story as an artist making it from a tough environment to Relumae Records, the label owned by NFL player Tamba Hali that signed Starrz last year.
"Live Forever. Die Dope" showcases why Hali is betting on Starrz -- specifically, his polished approach to songwriting. Approachable rhymes and sticky hooks take precedence here, and it does not take long to realize why the single "Dope Trilla aka Baltimore" found airplay on 92Q. More than any Baltimore rapper today, Starrz sounds ready for a national stage.
If he makes it there, let's hope he continues to make songs like the Ghost-produced "Angel$ & Demon$," a clear standout. It's a bleak, unflinching look at Baltimore's streets and finds Starrz rapping lines such as, "Welcome to hell, home of the death / Where they scared of two things: books and a pregnancy test." The song is sharp and smart because Starrz rebukes the notion that people are either angels or demons, and that dire economic circumstances are the result of right and wrong decisions. Life is not simple that way, and "Live Forever. Die Dope" succeeds most when viewed from that wide scope.
But like "Best Mixtape Ever," this 16-track album is far too long, clocking in at nearly 80 minutes. Losing a chunk of the skits, which seem to end and begin each song, would work wonders. They're used here as connective tissue for the narrative, but many times they are unnecessary, and worse, not entertaining. Starrz rightfully has the mainstream in his sights, but he should realize that his impact would be greater if he learned to trim the fat. -- Wesley Case