There’s moments on Rugby Thompson that remind of what we’ve grown accustomed to hearing from Smoke DZA. The afternoon weed nap inducing “Baleedat,” builds from the breezy “Personal Party,” from DZA’s last album, Rolling Stoned. “Playground Legend,” sees the rapper kick into his often overlooked storytelling mode, which he’s shown traces of on works like “On the Corner.” But while there are reference points to draw from, on the whole, DZA sounds somewhat different here. It's as if he’s carrying a chip on his shoulder this time around that’s more swaggering Harlemite and less the guy on the couch, weed rapper. Perhaps that’s brought out from the darker tone of the project, produced entirely by one of the hottest producers of the moment, Harry Fraud, the man behind French Montana’s breakout single “Shot Caller.”

Uptown braggadocio isn’t necessarily new for DZA, but when switching in and out of double time flow the way he does on the menacing “New Jack,” he’s more honed in than ever. Fraud’s incorporation of chopped and screwed samples on the pot slinging “Ashtray” and the Polo boot tribute “Rivermonts,” result in some of DZA’s best songs to date. Other strong cuts include “Turnbuckle Music,” where fellow wrestling aficionado Action Bronson plays a highflying tag team partner, and the album’s title track, where Smokey kicks brainy lifestyle raps with lines like, “Don’t ask me what I’m reppin, 'cause it’s simple son/Jettin on these monkeys like I’m focused playin’ Temple Run.”

DZA and Fraud recorded almost the entirety of Rugby Thompson together at Fraud’s Brooklyn studio. The rapper/producer tandem has become somewhat of a lost art in an era where entire albums are created via email exchange between rappers and an internet full of hungry beatmakers. But the chemistry between these two is palpable. It reminds of when DZA’s Jet Life compadre, Curren$y, fully came out of his shell with his Pilot Talk series alongside Ski Beatz. The same might be said about DZA and Rugby Thompson, an album that not only strips him of an unfair “weed rapper” label, but is also probably the best rap album to come out of New York this year. —Neil Martinez-Belkin (@Neil_MB)