Mozzy Records / EMPIRE

In an age where traditional gangsta rap doesn't move the needle or dominate the conversation surrounding mainstream rap like it did in previous eras, there are few artists that have been able to sustain a buzz without punk rock symbolism or drug-fueled exploits attached to their persona. Of the handful of emerging artists that provide an alternative to hip-hop's current incarnation of street rap, Mozzy proves he's capable of bringing to mind the raw imagery and authenticity that sparked the ascent of West Coast acts of yesteryear.

Hailing from Sacramento, Calif., the reputable gang banger continues to prove his worth as one of this generation's most visceral orators on his latest album, 1 Up Top Ahk, the rapper's most highly anticipated solo project to date.

The album's intro kicks off with an audio clip of law enforcement discussing Mozzy and his crew's fearsome reputation and penchant for violence. Mozzy follows that up by making the message clear that he or his faculty are not to be trifled with on the 1 Up Top Ahk opener "Mandated." "It's slimy where I live ahky," the Oak Park, Calif. menace warns over sinister keys from producer and longtime collaborator June, who constructs a brooding track, littered with 808 drums and searing synths. Talking greasy from the outset, Mozzy sets the tone immediately on "Mandated," bringing listeners to the frontlines of life on the streets of the rapper's Oak Park stomping grounds.

Tales of felonious capers, murder and gang wars remain prevalent in rap, but glossed over too frequently are the harsh realities that coincide with the lifestyle promoted, a dimension that sets Mozzy apart from many of his contemporaries—he balances his aggression with sobering accounts of tragedy and heartache. This is displayed on selections like the solemn "Take It Up With God," on which he and CellyRu come to terms with the death of a fallen soldier and the grief of his mother, as well on "Tomorrow Ain't Promised," which features standout guest spots on the part of Rexx Life Raj and Boosie Badazz.

One of the most enticing compositions on 1 Up Top Ahk is "Sleep Walkin," a heartfelt testimonial on the part of Mozzy on which he wears his heart, as well as his love for the street, on his sleeve. The West Coast goon conveys his graciousness for surviving past brushes with death. "Ay, we done came a long way, traveled down the wrong way/They ain't find no shell cases, thankful for the cold case," he rhymes atop 808 drums, guitar strings and a haunting vocal sample. He later concludes with, "God is good, God is great, I thank you for another day."

Producer June gifts Mozzy with a sparse, percussion-heavy soundscape on "Don't You," another selection on which the rapper steers the ship by his lonely, however, 1 Up Top Ahk comes replete with an ample amount of collaborative firepower.

Oak Park meets Nickerson Gardens on "Momma We Made It," which features Mozzy defending his turf alongside TDE's Jay Rock, while Koly P and YFN Lucci round out the proceedings on the Jaynari, Mmmonthabeat and Dave-O-produced "Stay Over There." The latter song finds the three paying homage to fallen street soldiers and lamenting the casualties of war.

Known more for brute street musings than party-hearty fare, one of the more pleasant curveballs on Mozzy's latest comes via "Outside," a mid-tempo affair that serves as a welcome change of pace. Featuring Dave East, Lil Durk and Lex Aura, the hook on the track may conspicuously mirror that of Travis Scott's delivery on his Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight LP, but it avoids becoming a complete retread thanks to show-stealing appearances on the part of East and Durk.

However, exclusivity is not an issue when it comes to "M.I.P. Jacka," among the more anticipated songs on the 1 Up Top Ahk tracklist. Featuring a posthumous verse from slain Bay Area rap legend The Jacka, who boasts, "Pops had a few bands I thought that shit was a million/Now I'm 20,000 fans at the Concord Pavilion," "M.I.P. Jacka" alone raises the stock of Mozzy's latest long player and stands as one of the album's more enthralling efforts.

In spite of being a lengthy body of work by current standards, 1 Up Top Ahk is a smooth listen and avoids any lackluster selections throughout. Mozzy closes the album out on a strong note, as the album's finest moments come during its final stretch. A solemn vocal sample, stellar performance on the part of Dcmbr, and moments of introspect from Mozzy on "Afraid" makes it a winning selection, while a somber saxophone riff powers the bluesy "Prayed for This" touches on the trials and tribulations endured along the road to fame. "Gangsta rap died with ’Pac, Mozzy brought it back," the West Coast mouthpiece boasts on the Dave-O and Daniel Cruz-produced "Can't Take It (Ima Gangsta)," which includes rare moments of remorse by Mozzy, as he comes to terms with the toll life on the streets has had on his psyche.

After delivering a pair of acclaimed collaborative projects during the first half of 2017, Mozzy gifts fans with the solo set they've been salivating over since last year's Mandatory Check in 1 Up Top Ahk, an album that reaffirms the rapper's status as one of the more celebrated spitters out of the West, mainstream aspirations notwithstanding.

Filled with cogent observations and perspectives revolving around the criminal element of his native habitat, 1 Up Top Ahk is another collection from Mozzy that continues to prove he is as in tune with the streets as any West Coast rapper to debut this decade and one with the wherewithal to make a lasting impression. That said, 1 Up Top Ahk isn't without its flaws, as it can tread on becoming repetitive sonically and in terms of lyrical content, as Mozzy's artistry lacks the multiple dimensions that enable an artist to truly tap their full potential and reach a myriad of audiences. Being a jack of all trades can be highly beneficial, however, being masterful at one is nothing to sneeze at and when it comes to servicing the goons and the hustlers, Mozzy proves once again that he is without reproach.

See New Music Releases for September 2017

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