Kent's Smoke Screen is a workmanlike MC with a confident, blunted flow. Unfortunately, he's a much better rapper than producer; his latest is undermined by shoddy, value-menu beats and a terrible mix. Still, this disc is a solid showcase for some promising MCs, including Uncle Dirty (who sounds like a distant cousin of Too Short), the hyperventilating Tai Kwan, and Caucasian cutup D. Lung, one of the fastest-rhyming white boys you're likely to hear.
Cleveland's CLO Records does a better job of showcasing its talent on Enter the Northcoast. Here, the production is a highlight, especially on Mr. Illdub's moody album opener "What City You Claim," with its gentle guitar and lulling synth, and Bino's "Who Want War," which starts as a chest-thumping a cappella workup before drifting into a vaguely Caribbean beat. Elsewhere, soul crooner Millian and the iron-lunged Lady T attest to the depth of CLO's roster.
Though he's not affiliated with a label yet, Cleveland's Drilla soon will be, if his self-released debut is any indication. The stonefaced MC sounds like Ohio's answer to rap's reigning mouth of the South, the metaphor-infatuated Ludacris. Like Luda, Drilla comes with loud, resonant rhymes that rumble like a fault line. "In my life I done hit more bumps than Braille books," he growls at one point over a sentimental hook. Look for his fortunes to improve any day now.
It may take a little more time for burly rhymer AUG to match Drilla, though he makes progress on his sophomore LP. A forceful, heavy-breathing MC, AUG rhymes over videogame snippets and babbling background vox. The beats occasionally have the chintzy sheen of a fake Rolex, though AUG has made clear headway in terms of production. "I'm never finished," he announces on "Feel No Shame." "I'm always getting stronger/Like Popeye eating spinach." Better help yourself to another serving, playa. -- Jason Bracelin