If you were to ask any fan where the epicenter of hip-hop is located at this current moment, you will undoubtedly get a variety of answers; New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta will inevitably be among the cities that people mention as being the focal point of hip-hop. The city of Chicago though seems to have a great case in that debate as well. With talents such as Lil Durk, Vic Mensa, Chance The Rapper, and 20-year-old phenom Lil Bibby (all 2014 XXL Freshmen) coming out of The Windy City in recent years, it appears that the region is a popular place for new talent. Lil Bibby's new mixtape, the DJ Drama-hosted Free Crack II, does a great job of strengthening Chicago's case for that crown.

Lil Bibby's latest effort, a follow-up to his well received November 2013 debut, Free Crack, builds upon the success of his initial tape. A mixtape that pairs trunk-rattling production with ominous street tales, Free Crack II shows early on why Lil Bibby earned a spot on our Freshman list this year. The mixtape begins with a recording of some brag-talk from Cash Money Records CEO Birdman, followed by Bibby proclaiming: "When I win the championship... I'm gonna retire from the fucking game," giving the listener a taste of the confidence that continues to ooze out of every subsequent track on the mixtape. This confidence continues throughout Free Crack II. Over the course of the mixtape, Bibby's penchant for doing his own hooks on songs such as "Can I Have Your Attention", "Boy", and "Can I Get A" showcases a confidence that many rappers struggle with. This level of sophistication in his songwriting at such an early age; being able to come up with even catchier hooks than on his previous tape, along with his ear for beats, shows his growth as an artist.

As one continues to thumb through the 18-track project, it is clear to the listener that Lil Bibby is taking you on a journey of his Chicago hood, on his terms. "Can I have your attention, fuck that, when you hear me talk you better listen", says Bibby on "Can I Have Your Attention", over smooth production by Bangladesh & Brannu, announcing to the listener that what he has to say, matters. Bibby makes it very clear what his main interest is; making money by any means. "Everybody with me getting money" is what Bibby proclaims on "Boy." Cuts from 2002 classic Paid In Full does a great job of solidifying the point Bibby is trying to get across in this tape. Like Ace from the movie, Bibby is looking to be the man on the block, whether he's selling literal crack or figurative crack in his music.

The production on Free Crack II is a healthy balance of drill, trap, and soul inspired production that keeps the listener on their toes, both literally and figuratively. It's difficult to not jump up and down when joints like "For The Low Pt. 2" and "Montana" come on. Bibby has definitely employed the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy when it comes to production on Free Crack II. The production style on this tape is consistent with the original Free Crack, which fits Bibby's distinct baritone voice. As far as features are concerned, less than half of the tracks on the album contain features, allowing Lil Bibby to shine through. Though Bibby does not possess the witty lyricism of some of his fellow Chi-Town contemporaries, the songs and topics on the mixtape don't really ask for anything more than what Bibby provides us, which are straightforward, and no-frills bars. This level of balance on a variety of fronts is one of the mixtape's best qualities.

But perhaps the greatest quality of this mixtape, and Lil Bibby in general, is the authenticity that exudes in each and every track. Whether it's him saying "I'll kill a bitch and kill her kids, it all depends what her nigga did" on "Game Over", talking about the problems that come with people knowing you have money on "Can I Get A", or saying that he thought that he'd be "dead or in prison" on the track that bears the same name, he shines a light on the daily hardships of Chiraq, a way of life that many people are fully aware of. Even for those who don't relate to the way of life Bibby experiences, a track such as "Water"(Remix), is something that anyone who has been through any type of hardship can rally around.

Since gracing our Freshman cover earlier this year, Bibby has been hard at work perfecting his sophomore mixtape, and it's clear that his work has paid off. Free Crack II is a successful follow up to what was one of last year's best mixtape releases. While the original Free Crack found Bibby at his infancy stage as a songwriter, Bibby has shown his progression on the second installment. Each song has its own distinct feel. Bibby has also added the ability to be able to come up with even catchier hooks, all while expanding his subject matter, if only minimally. At only 20, Bibby has the presence of a seasoned veteran on Free Crack II.The mixtape series name is a propos, because it is clear that once listeners get dose of Bibby's product on this tape, they'll be coming back for more.—Marvin Jules