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Drique London's The Manual 

In a pool of upcoming Tar Heel rappers more consumed by co-signs and sticking to tradition than becoming homegrown maestros and show throwers, Raleigh emcee Drique London was simply tired of putting out mixtape after mixtape to very little reception. Finally, he decided, it was time for a proper statement—his debut LP, The Manual. London almost canned the idea because producers weren't offering the kind of beats he wanted to hear. That changed when producers Darius Webb, Unique One, Westtopher and Majestic helped offer the counterparts to London's lyrical ambition. The Manual, in turn, is worth a read.

King Mez and Kooley High's Tab-One serve as the upperclassmen on "The Cypher," turning Majestic's soulful loop into a paean that should sit comfortably within the state's canon of eminent rap songs; it's that good. On standout tracks "Thriller," "Red Chucks" and "Nike Shoe Box," Majestic's beats largely save London from his own occasional blunders. If London is interested in having an identifiable sound, he should follow the example of Drake and his longtime go-to producer Noah "40" Shebib. Their partnership has given cohesion to their ideas. Otherwise, London's choppy front-porch observations get lost before they even reach the streets, stages or speakers; on "My Dream" and "Darkness," for instance, London gets lost in his own notebook bathos.

But London means well, and he's carved out a laudible debut LP, despite a few freshman mistakes. With The Manual, London makes courageous decisions to air out his personal aggravations and aspirations in hopes that they're interesting enough for our scrutiny. They're not, but where London lacks in staggering wordplay and tales, he generally makes up for it with an easygoing, tinted delivery. London wants to be a staple; The Manual makes for a good primer in Ambition 101.

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