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Today's hip-hop is a battle between the belly and the heart: MCs must choose either the kind of mainstream thug posturing that can feed their family or the righteous rap that radio steers clear of. This struggle is at the root of Snub's rough, refreshing debut.

"There's a bunch of niggas tellin' me to rhyme for the thugs, 'cause the only thing selling is sex, money, and drugs/Then there's more niggas telling me to spit for the art, keep it underground, not caring if I get in the charts/But I'ma do me honestly, simply flow fluid . . .," he says on "Alright," sounding like Jay-Z with a dash of the Prodigy's grave flow.

With rhymes laid over seminal cuts by acts like Goodie Mob and Dead Prez, Emancipation is a twist on the mix tape, pairing borrowed beats with fresh rhymes and welcome candor. "I ain't gonna lie to y'all, I ain't a G in the least bit/I got a car, but my mom co-signed when I leased it," Snub rhymes on Emancipation's intro, which bites Lil' Flip's "This Is the Way We Ball," cleverly flipping the script on that playa anthem. Throughout the disc, Snub is equal parts braggadocio and self-deprecation. In the end, he finds peace in poverty, though this disc may lead him out of it.

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