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After a three year onslaught of mixtapes, Smoke DZA has teamed up with Harry Fraud for what reads more like a proper album. Featuring prominent guest appearances from  heavyweights Sean Price and Curren$y and up-and-comers A.$.A.P. Twelvyy and Odd Future member Domo Genesis, Rugby Thompson should bridge the gap between fans of gritty street narrative and–as his name would suggest–backpack-adorned weed heads.

The title track kicks off the album and really sets the tone for both rapper and producer. As Smoke describes them in the very first bar, “Nucky Thompson and Chalky White body/Add a little Al Capone, put some Rugby on, you got me.” The Boardwalk Empire reference showcases his lyrical versatility over a retooled “Across 110th St.” by Bobby  Womack. From there we are given a taste of Smoke’s double-time flow on “New Jack,” a story of conditional love on “Baleedat”–featuring frequent collaborator Curren$y–and my personal favorite “Playground Legend.”

“Playground Legend” tells the story of two school kids with unattainable ambitions despite their immense talent. The former is an aspiring rapper who never breaks out  of his hometown and the latter is a local basketball star who “might’ve been the nicest nigga to handle the rock.” but unfortunately gets locked up when he turns to selling  drugs. The chorus sums it all up; “Uh, local superstars/ Once was, but ain’t get too far/ Uh, wasn’t humble enough to get in/ Now you on the pine, playground legend.” Depressing as it may seem, it’s refreshing to hear stories of struggle. It contrasts the usual hip-hop tradition of braggadocio and magical success. This theme is continued in “Game  7″ featuring young dynamo A.$.A.P. Twelvyy. The story of hustling drugs to pay bills starts with “First of the month, package straight/ Kicks is new, my rent is late.” The  lyrical content pairs well with Harry’s somber instrumentation complete with flutes and reverbed claps. Luckily, DZA doesn’t stay in serious-mode the whole time as his fans still get a taste of the humorous side they know and love. Just one example of such is on the aptly titled “Kenny Powers” where he states “Fresh threads like I came from  the mansion/Old Bucks my n**ga, Terrel Brandon”

Rugby Thompson is by far the most cohesive piece of work Smoke DZA has put out and it’s clear he has developed in to a serious player in the independent hip-hop  scene. The link up with Harry Fraud is definitely a good fit and I fully expect this album to elevate their status amongst music connoisseurs.

-Nick McClure

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