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Tomee Spitshine 

Gladiata (First Instinct)

Brandishing a broadsword and garbed in gladiator gear for the back cover of his debut, Tomee Spitshine promises to explore an untapped vein of goofy gangster-rap metaphors. But after the spoken-word intro, he drops the conceit, simply working every angle of mainstream hard rap, from slow-flow street gangster to quick and cheesy booty bounce to Southern-fried crunk.

The CD would benefit from some high-grade production work, but more often than not, the crudeness is just part of Spitshine's brazen form of rap, which offers lines like "Niggers, grab your dicks/Ladies, shake your tits." It may be ugly, but the track -- "Stick Up" -- still flows funky, neatly laying out a twin-lead rap, a tinkling-chime ostinato, and a sultry singer smartly interpolating Michael Jackson's "Off the Wall." And it isn't all lowbrow: When he wants to, Spitshine can drop rhymes as polished as his name: "We sit back and eat fettuccine alfredo/Rock your mind like a cradle/You prenatal." Maybe on the next album he should pose with a pen.

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