Starlito and Don Trip are two artists operating at the peak of their powers. Years from now, it's likely that they'll receive much more attention for what they've accomplished artistically over the past few years. But in the current industry climate, it's been a particularly arduous uphill grind.

We spoke in person to Starlito and Trip in mid-October; Starlito, in person as on record, has the surplus of ideas and deficit of time to share them common to writerly personalities. On record, his ideas are economical. He uses wordplay and imagery to convey complex, nuanced emotions, but without drawing attention to that complexity. Instead, the feeling comes first.

Don Trip is often at his most effective when he taps into a more straightforward vein, where his emotions are at the surface; although "Letter To My Son" was his career-making moment, I've found "Hold Back Tears" to be his most effective, powerful use of this approach. On Step Brothers Two, Trip is more tempered, relaxed, but his writing is as good as its ever been. 

One of the problems of being a craft-oriented MC in this era, in competing for blog space and attention, is that all craft-conscious rappers are lumped in together, uniquely talented individuals reduced to a blur of "respected" wordsmiths. It's music sold as reactionary reassurance for adults, deserving of a respectful nod and set up in opposition to more brash, exuberant art of teens and clubgoers. Step Brothers Two doesn't deserve this fate. It might be an easier sell, and win more converts, with a turn towards more dynamic songcraft, though. The album's easy highlight, "Leash On Life," is an unforgettable single, in part due to a musical hook from Kevin Gates. It provides a gripping musicality, while naturally complementing the lyrical style of both rappers. —David Drake