Since making his debut on his cousin Z-Ro’s 1998 LP Look What You Did to Me, Trae has emerged as a staple in Houston’s underground scene. After a string of regional hits, the Screwed Up Click representative signed to Rap-A-Lot Records last year and released his overlooked national debut, Restless. Undeterred by the lackluster response to his premier project, Trae goes for broke with his latest effort, Life Goes On.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but in this case, Trae gets carried away. Displaying an obvious admiration for Tupac Shakur, the H-Town native references and borrows from the late great throughout. On the familiarly titled “Against All Odds,” Trae plugs 2Pac’s verse from “Deadly Combination” into his brawny battle cry. The title piracy continues on the introspective “Smile,” featuring Styles P and Jadakiss. Even his standout collaboration with Rich Boy and the Inc’s Lloyd, “Ghetto Queen,” lifts the same sample as ’Pac’s timeless cut “Pain.”

Although the swagger jackin’ eventually subsides, Trae still relies heavily on outside assistance to make his mark. Going flow for flow with Lil Wayne on the bouncing “Screwed Up,” the drawling Southerner falters with weak lines like, “Up in these streets I’m like a kid, ’cause I love to get lost/And stay packin’ something that love to break a hater off.” The street orator shows more promise when he speaks on matters of the heart. The touching “Give My Last Breath” finds Trae admirably paying homage to all his fallen soldiers: “Bring back Screw/Matter of fact, bring the whole crew back/And if we never see each other, I love you/That’s a fact.”

While Trae also makes an impact with grittier cuts like the lyrical clinic “The Truth” and the emotional title track, these gems get lost amid the abundance of guests and the extended playlist. Providing a more personal touch would’ve helped bolster the Texan’s national campaign, but, as is, Life Goes On only leaves hope that the third time’s the charm.—THOMAS A. HARDEN