Baton Rouge native Kevin Gates has come out with his debut retail album, Stranger Than Fiction. After years of building regional acclaim with a slew of mixtape releases, Gates transcended to a national level thanks to his standout appearance on “Trust You” by Pusha T, off his Wrath Of Caine mixtape, and the critical acclaim of his 2013 mixtape, The Luca Brasi Story. On Stranger Than Fiction, Gates sticks to the freewheeling style that has taken his career to new heights in the last six months, presenting a melodic brand of street music that maintains a crucial gritty aesthetic.

Gates’ delivery fluctuates track-by-track, minute-by-minute. His harsh, gravelly voice changes from throaty yelling (“Smiling Faces”) to guttural whispering (“MYB”), and everywhere in between. At the same time, Gates is able to hit notes with minimal assistance to conjure up a melodic flow that also switches up the pace of the song. This is evident on the album intro, “4 Legs And A Biscuit.” The track showcases Gates’ strong suit: his ability to present the street life in an unfiltered manner. There is no glorification of the violent life he was leading prior to striking success in the rap game. Instead, Gates expresses remorse on his opening track, saying, “Lord, forgive me I’m sinning I come to you as a sinner/Take all my scars take my heart, turn me into a Christian.”

The album’s two standout tracks demonstrate Gates’ refusal to sugarcoat his Baton Rouge upbringing. “4:30 AM” is a song with a simple message: nothing good comes from hanging out late at night. The message is conveyed through a series of visceral stories, including the gripping tale of surviving a shootout on the first verse. Meanwhile, “Tiger” is a tale of loyalty that disappears in the trappings of fame, as Gates exposes his tricky relationship with one of his closest friends that have ultimately turned sour.

When Gates enters this territory and exposes his vulnerability, he is in his element. Haunting production, such as the beat on “4:30 AM,” amplifies the mood, while he uses his singing to craft hooks that are engaging and catchy, in a manner similar to Future. Outside of this formula, he isn't as his strongest, as indicated in the repetitive production that settles in later on.

Often, the 18-song album does tend to drift away from this space. Songs like “Careful” and “Patrick Swazy” are unnecessary and forced. The Migos appearance on “Snake N***a” sounds better suited for the trio’s Y.R.N. project. Despite these faults, Kevin Gates demonstrates the vulnerability and inventive style that have made him one of 2013’s buzzing newcomers on Stranger Than Fiction. He treats this debut album like a retail mixtape, and the result is a project that picks off from where The Luca Brasi Story left off. Unfortunately, these high points aren't enough for him here to progress further.– Dharmic X (@dharmicX)